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Volume 4 -- Issue 73 -- Inauguration Day Part 2

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Inauguration Day Part 2
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With their extraordinary powers, Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. They have overcome many daunting challenges and confronted many powerful enemies like Magneto, Sinister, and the Inner Circle. However, their most daunting challenge now lays before them in the form of newly elected president, Robert Kelly.

Having campaigned on an anti-mutant platform, Senator Robert Kelly rode growing fears of mutants to a historic victory. Along the way, his resolve has been tested. An encounter with Magneto left him shaken after his son was turned into a mutant. This has already caused a rift between him and his trusted advisor, Reverend William Stryker. How this will affect his policies remain to be seen, but there is little doubt that whatever he decides will have a profound impact.

For now, the most immediate challenge is getting through Inauguration Day. Security has been tight. Nobody wants another incident with an overzealous protester, mutant or otherwise. But this hasn’t stopped a mysterious mutant known as Stryfe from hatching an ambitious plot. With the help from the disillusioned Morlock, Callisto, he is set to start what he believes to be a necessary war. It will be up to the X-men and those protecting the new president to stop this war before it starts.


Washington DC – Inauguration Parade Route

The festivities were in full swing. President elect, Robert Kelly, was making his way through the streets towards the Capitol where the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stood ready to swear him in. The roads were cleared, but along the way there were crowds of people cheering and waving. Robert Kelly smiled and waved back under a heavy veil of security that included both the Secret Service and Reverend William Stryker’s private body guards, the Purifiers. Despite their earlier disagreements, Stryker assured him the parade would be secure and so far he had made good on his word.

But the new president had it easy. While Senator Kelly was smiling for the public, Reverend Stryker was frantically coordinating his forces from a motorcade that was trailing closely behind the main parade. This was the most vulnerable part of the ceremonies. If anyone was going to disrupt this historic moment, this would be the time. And based on some recent reports, some unholy souls were taking full advantage of it.

“What do you mean a riot just broke out?” exclaimed Reverend Stryker into his communicator to one of his lieutenants.

“I don’t know how else to describe it! One minute these protest groups were yelling at each other! The next minute they’re all fighting like a bunch of deranged meth heads!”

“So break it up!  I know it’s hard protecting heathens, but your job was to keep the peace!”

“We’re trying, but a few of our boys decided to join in! Even the Secret Service is getting into the act!”

“You had best be exaggerating!” barked Stryker.

“I wish I was, sir. This isn’t just a couple of guys getting into a scuffle. It’s men, women, and even a couple of kids just going off on each other! It’s like they’re possessed!”

It was one of the many scenarios Reverend Stryker hoped to avoid. Protests were not unusual in Washington, especially on days like this. A full blown riot, however, was a different beast and could easily become a major problem.

Sitting in the back of a black van that was part of the secure motorcade, Reverend Stryker had access to all security feeds covering the downtown area. He and his associates used a couple of laptops to access camera displays so they could see the unfolding events near the Washington Monument. When the images started coming in, they learned that the lieutenant was definitely not understating the situation.

“My God…” said one of Stryker’s associates.

“You’re right,” said Stryker into his communicator, “It’s as if the devil himself is guiding these people into a sea of carnage.”

“What should we do, sir? We’re spread really thin in this area and…”

Suddenly, there was a loud bang through the communicator. What they heard next was cause for even greater concern.

“Augh! My arm! What the hell is wrong with…”

There was a brief silence over the line. They could hear the lieutenant grunting in pain. Then his tone abruptly shifted something far more sinister.

“THAT’S IT! TO HELL WITH KEEPING THE PEACE! YOU HELLSPAWNS ASKED FOR IT!”

It sounded like the ravings of a madman. Before Stryker or anyone else could try to talk him down, the communication link was severed. Whatever it was that was possessing these people, the Purifiers and the Secret Service were not immune.

Reverend Stryker sat in silence for a moment, his expression hardening as he watched more video feeds from the riots that were growing with each passing second. He also kept an eye on the parade with Senator Kelly, which was still going smoothly for the moment. But if this chaos spread, the ceremony was sure to be disrupted.

“We’ve lost the uplink,” said one of Styrker’s Purifier associates anxiously, “All our teams around the Washington Monument have gone offline.”

“You think they’re participating in this madness?” said another associate.

“We’ve trained these holy warriors long and hard! They should be more disciplined than this!” said another.

“You’re right…they should be,” said Stryker suspiciously, “Perhaps it isn’t just mob mentality we’re dealing with. Perhaps something much more unholy is afoot.”

“What do you mean, Reverend?”

Reverend Stryker paused for a moment. There was any number of deranged individuals who would seek to disrupt this affair, but this was something different. Somebody or something was pulling the strings and they were doing so with forces that seemed all but unholy. There was only one logical conclusion.

“This has the stench of the mutant menace all over it!” said the reverend strongly, “There’s no way these abominations would let this moment go unchallenged!”

“Mutants…they’re just not satisfied with being mere abominations!” grunted one of the Purifiers, “So what do we do about it, Reverend?”

“We do what the Purifiers always do. We fight in the name of the Lord!”

With growing urgency, Reverend Stryker picked up his communicator and switched the channel so he could reach as many of his crusaders as possible. This unholy obstruction had to be confronted before the whole ceremony was compromised.

“Attention all, Purifiers! We have a level five alert! All secondary units are to leave their posts immediately and converge on the Washington Monument! Use whatever lethal force you have to and find the source of the aberration! Let nothing stand in your way!”


Over Washington DC – Velocity

The ceremony was underway as the X-men descended upon Washington DC in their newest high tech aircraft, the Velocity. For an event this big the whole team had been deployed. Scott, Jean, Bobby, Hank, Logan, Ororo, Kitty, Kurt, Remy, and Rogue were all suited up and ready for action. Only Professor Xavier stayed behind to monitor the situation from Cerebrum. Nobody was surprised that something came up during the Inauguration Day ceremony, but as with all their encounters with Robert Kelly the situation had the potential to get very bad.

In addition to the mission, this was the first time they were putting the Velocity in a combat scenario. This new aircraft had been in development for a while now and it was designed with the evolving nature of the X-men’s battles in mind.

“Wow, I gotta say I’m liking the Velocity so far,” commented Kitty, “It’s a much smoother descent compared to the Blackbird.”

“And less G-forces to keep Remy’s breakfast gumbo in our stomachs where it belongs,” said the Cajun mutant, “You and the Prof did alright puttin’ these here chopper together, teach.”

“Thank you, Remy,” said Hank, “Although I must reiterate the Velocity is not a helicopter. A jet rotor transport would be a much more appropriate term.”

“I don’t care what you call it as long as it gets us to the action,” said Logan, already itching to get into the fight, “Just tell me the tourists and rent-a-cops down there won’t see us coming and tip the asshole behind this mess.”

“Our movements will be covert, I assure you,” said Hank confidently, “Charles and I emphasized stealth in the construction of this craft. It has the latest in anti-radar and infrared cloaking. It even has a special coating on the skin of the craft to blend in with the surrounding skyline. But e’re most excited about the noise dampening projectors that can funnel acoustic interference fthrough a trans-medium sonic flux to…”

“Okay, we get it! It’s high tech!” said Bobby, cutting his teacher off before he put their collective vocabularies to shame any further, “You just need to say it’s fast and stealthy and leave it at that.”

“I apologize, but sometimes I can’t help myself with new technology,” shrugged Hank with a sheepish grin.

“Well now would be a great time to save your breath, Beast. It looks like you’ll need it,” said Scott, who was in the pilot chair.

The Velocity settled into a silent hover just over the top of the Washington Monument. From here, the X-men could see the chaos unfolding below. By now the heated scuffles had turned into a mini-riot that was growing with each passing second. It was hard to tell who was fighting who. It was just hoards of people lashing out in a blind rage.

The two groups of protesters were savagely attacking one another. People wearing anti-mutant banners ganged up on those wearing peace signs and mercilessly beat them, forcing several protesters to the ground where they were kicked and punched relentlessly. It wasn’t just the mutant rights crowd that was being attacked. A couple of older protesters wearing emblems from Aerie Global had cornered a couple of former Friends of Humanity henchmen and tackled them to the ground. Once pinned, these people who were originally protesting peace showed the same savagery and brutally assaulted them with rage in their eyes.

These smaller battles amongst the crowds were just one of many. All throughout the area, fights were breaking out. Some appeared to have nothing to do with the mutant issue. They were just fighting for the sake of fighting. Even the Secret Service and the Purifiers, who were supposed to be maintaining order, took part in the savagery. Even from high above they could hear the cries and grunts of the chaotic scuffle.

“Mien Gott! It looks like a full blown riot down zhere!” said Kurt as he gazed out the window.

“Even a riot ain’t supposed to be this crazy,” said Rogue, “Did the new president just burn the constitution and declare mob rule?”

“That be an insult to mobs everywhere. Remy’s seen bar fights more organized than this,” said the Cajun mutant.

“It’s a fight, bub. It ain’t supposed to be organized,” snarled Logan with intent, “If Kelly’s goons ain’t gonna keep the peace then I guess we’re stuck with the job!”

“Then what are we waitin’ for? Let’s get down there!” said Rogue, cracking her knuckles in preparation for the battle.

Rogue, Logan, and many of the others were eager to confront the growing. But Jean stepped in to slow them down.

“Hold it guys! It’s not as crazy as it looks,” said Jean, who had been silent for most of the trip.

“We got a crowd worked up like a bunch of meth heads in a mosh pit and no police equipped to handle it. I’d say that’s pretty damn crazy!” retorted Logan.

“If it were that simple, the Professor never would have sent us here,” she reasoned, “Remember, this all started with a strange mutant signature. I’ve been in constant contact with the Professor and even with Cerebrum, he can’t seem to get a fix on it.”

“Well he did say Callisto was nearby as well,” reminded Ororo, “Perhaps she has enlisted the help of some new Morlocks with psychic abilities.”

“That’s possible, but doubtful,” said Scott, “We’ve been in touch with the Morlocks throughout the Election. If they’re in on this, we would have known about it.”

“That’s assuming that Marrow woman hasn’t been lying to us,” scoffed Kitty.

“She hasn’t,” said the X-leader strongly, “Marrow may be bone-headed in more ways than one, but she’s a woman of her word. That leads me to suspect that Callisto is flying solo as she so often does when she’s in a mood.”

“So what could it be? Political overload? A publicity stunt for Fox News?” shrugged Bobby.

“Anything’s possible, but the only way we’ll know for sure is to investigate,” said Scott as he activated the autopilot on the Velocity.

Once the aircraft was in a steady hover, Scott undid his restraints and joined the team in the back near the side hatch. The others followed suit. Logan, Ororo, and Jean stood near the front while Hank, Bobby, Rogue, Kurt, Kitty, and Remy stood close behind. It was already a given they were going to have to throw themselves into the center of this riot, but not without a plan.

“We’ll start with standard crowd control. The main priority is the safety of the people. Don’t let them hurt each other anymore than they have to,” said Scott.

“Vhat about zhe Purifiers and Secret Service?” asked Kurt, “Zhey may be armed.”

“For them, you can probably afford to be a little rougher,” said the X-leader.

“Just a little?” sneered Logan.

“Save the rough stuff for non-combat situations, Logan,” teased Ororo, which earned her a look from her lover.

“With that disturbing remark from my ex in mind, what about Callisto and this mutant signature?” asked Hank.

“That’s the second priority,” replied the X-leader, “If it’s the source, we need to find it! That’s why Jean is going to stay in a fallback position and protect our minds. She’ll also keep us linked to the Professor. As soon as he finds out what and who is behind this, we’ll shift gears and strike!”

“We’ll also have to protect President Kelly,” added Ororo, “If this riot keeps spreading, it may interfere with the ceremonies.”

“Knowing him he’ll use it as extra motivation to make mutants miserable,” muttered Kitty.

“Which is why we’re not going to let it get that far!” said Scott with focused determination as, “We’ve got mutant relations for the next four years at stake! Let’s try to make them productive!”

With their mission in hand, Scott opened the hatch to the Velocity. The cold January air poured in and the treacherous scene below lay before them. Now exposed to the elements, the ghastly sounds of the riot below were a lot clearer.

“I’LL KICK ALL YOUR ASSES!”

“FIGHT! FIGHT! I’LL NEVER STOP FIGHTING!”

“THIS MEANS WAR! YOU’RE ALL DEAD, YOU HEAR? DEAD!”

These were one among countless enraged cries from below. It presented a daunting challenge, taking on both an unknown mutant signature and hoards of average people driven mad with violent rage. Standing at the edge of the Velocity, the X-men entered the conflict knowing that they were about to be part of yet another historic day.

“God bless America indeed,” sighed Bobby over the enraged cries.

“Where’s you’re sense of patriotism, Iceman?” teased Jean, trying to keep the mood light while she mentally prepared herself for the task before her.

“Sorry Jean, but I’m not feeling the American spirit right now. If this is we have to look forward to with President Kelly in office, then it’s going to be a long four years.”


Atop the Washington Monument

“That’s right you mindless fools! Fight! Maim! Kill! Let the spirit of war consume you!” seethed Stryfe as he looked down at what he created.

Hovering near the edge of the Washington Monument, Stryfe’s eyes continued to glow bright red as he psychically pushed hundreds of susceptible minds into a war-hungry rage. His mind was deeply focused, using his dark gift to spur the darkest of human tendencies. It affected every human being in a similar manner. From the strongest of men to the weakest of little children, it caused them to abandon all sense of compassion for their fellow human and unleash an onslaught of unhindered violence.

“I admit I wasn’t impressed before. Buy me another beer and I’ll gladly eat my words!” said a dazed but very impressed Callisto, “They’re not even trying to take sides anymore! They’re just fighting for the sake of fighting!”

“It’s the infamous fog of war,” grinned Stryfe, “When the rage of violence consumes them, there is no side to be taken! It’s just fight or be destroyed!”

“So when doe we unleash the next part of the plan?” she asked, “As much as I love watching surface-dwellers beat the shit out of each other, the ceremony is still on schedule.”

“Part of unleashing controlled chaos involves timing, Callisto,” he told her, “And that time is fast approaching!”

One-by-one, Stryfe corrupted each mind that was vulnerable. As the fighting escalated, more minds were weakened and more people were brought into this blinding rage. At the rate it was growing, it would soon reach the ceremony. Once it consumed the areas around the motorcade, there would be no turning back. With the whole world watching, the spirit of war would be ripe for spreading.

Callisto took a perverse pleasure in seeing hundreds of humans attack one another. She was so used to being attacked herself she almost forgot that humans could be just as cruel to one another as they could to her fellow Morlocks. Stryfe really did a number on them. He was poised to bring about the war that war she and others believed was so necessary.

While fixated on the sight below, a different commotion emerged overhead. A familiar gust of sharp winds filled the cold winter air. Callisto knew that gust all too well and identified a series of figures as they descended upon the enraged crowds.

“X-men! Their timing is only as impeccable as their foolishness!” she grunted, “Better step it up, Stryfe!”

“You almost sound worried,” said Stryfe, not looking threatened in the slightest.

“I am worried and you should be too!” she said strongly, “I’ve fought the X-men before! They’re not a force to be taken lightly!”

“Who says I’m taking them lightly? I’m actually surprised they didn’t show up sooner.”

“Is this part of the plan?” said Callisto, still somewhat skeptical.

“Oh yes…it’s part of a very good plan,” he said with a mysterious grin, “As it just so happens, this is where you come in.”

“Me?!” exclaimed the confused Morlock, “Do you honestly believe I can take the X-men on my own?”

“Why not? The X-men are heroes and all heroes need a villain. And since you seem so eager to be on the front lines of this war, you’ll have to take that role.”

“What?! But this wasn’t part of the…” Callisto began.

“It is now!” sneered Stryfe.

With a sadistic grin, Stryfe used his telekinetic powers to forcefully shove Callisto off edge of the Washington Monument. She tried to lunge for him, but she didn’t even get within a three feet of him. Now falling helplessly towards the enraged crowds below, she let out an angry cry that signaled her surrender to the spirit of war.

“STRRRYYYYFEEE!” she yelled.

“Sorry Callisto,” said a very unsympathetic Styfe, “Nothing personal. It’s all about logistics. A human/mutant war cannot emerged without mutants being involved. The world will see it as the X-men fighting a renegade mutant and in that fight, the two opposing sides of humanity got involved. It won’t be rallying cry for either side. It won’t be a sneak attack in the spirit of Pearl Harbor or September 11th. It’ll just be a spark that sends all sides to war.”

Grinning to himself, Stryfe prepared for the next phase of his plan. It was amazing how trusting someone like Callisto could be. Too bad she had to be deceived to go along with this, but it was a necessary sacrifice. Now that all the pieces were in play, it was just a matter of maximizing the carnage.


Washington Monument

The X-men descended into the heart of the riots, knowing full well they were grossly outnumbered by civilians they couldn’t afford to hurt. This wouldn’t be as simple as defeating some sinister foe. This was a fragile affair where too many hurt civilians would be more detrimental than any defeat by their worst enemy.

“Here we go, X-men! Storm, give us a landing! But be careful!” ordered Cyclops.

“I’ll be as subtle as Mother Nature can be, Cyclops!” affirmed Storm.

A sharp whirlwind cleared a small area near the base of the monument, driving back several dozen enraged protesters and security forces. Rogue, Phoenix, and Storm quickly moved in with Storm guiding Cyclops, Beast, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Gambit into the crowd. Iceman followed closely aboard one of his ice slides. Their presence quickly drew the attention of the rioters. The anti-mutant protesters and the Purifiers were the first to notice. The glowing red eyes that had driven their rage thus far intensified. Even those who were protesting for mutant rights got involved, looking no less malicious than before.

“IT’S THE X-MEN!”

“I HATE THOSE DO-GOODER FREAKS! I’LL TAKE THEM ALL ON!”

“NOT UNTIL I’M THROUGH WITH THEM!”

The rage of these men, women, and even a few children shocked and terrified the X-men. It was far worse than anything Professor Xavier had described.

“Whoa! I don’t know what’s gotten into these people, but they look pissed!” exclaimed Shadowcat.

“Looks like an army of Remy’s ex-girlfriends,” commented Gambit as he took out his bow staff.

“I hope zhey aren’t quite as vindictive, mien friend! Zhey don’t appear to be zhemselves!” said Nightcrawler.

“I’m guessing it has something to do with those glowing eyes!” said Cyclops as he adjusted his visor, “Phoenix, get up high and guard our minds! Everybody else, try to subdue as many as you can! Avoid serious injuries at all costs!”

“Fight without hurting people,” muttered Wolverine as he drew his claws, “Why don’t you ask us to grow three feet taller?”

“Think of it as an exercise in tact, Wolverine,” said Beast, “Such a skill will likely be more valuable for the next four years.”

“Growing three feet taller still sounds easier,” commented Iceman as he started forming snowballs from the cold winter air.

Cyclops fired the first shot, unleashing a wide-arcing optic blast on his visor’s lowest power setting to drive back a dozen Purifiers who tried to charge them. This stunned them, but did little to stop them. They were so enraged they didn’t seem to feel pain and got right back up. Others quickly joined, charging the X-men as well with equal vigor. The team followed their leader’s orders and fought back, knowing they had to be careful or risk a terrible backlash.

The team quickly broke off and headed out in different directions. Rogue and Gambit headed one way, taking on the Secret Service members that had fallen under this mysterious spell. Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Iceman took on the anti-mutant and mutant rights protesters who were close by. Wolverine, Cyclops, and Beast went for the Purifiers, who appeared to be most affected. Their eyes were glowing much brighter than the others, allowing them to brutally and efficiently fight off anybody in their way. Though the mysterious rage their hatred for mutants and the X-men still influenced them. They fought harder and with greater determination, caring little for anyone and anything in their way.

While the team split up to cover the chaotic battlegrounds, Storm and Phoenix stayed in the air to provide backup. Storm used her winds to create a barrier of sorts to keep too many people from overwhelming the others. While she whipped up some gale-force winds, Phoenix focused her telepathic talents on protecting the minds of her teammates. Whatever was causing this violent madness, it was psychic in nature. It was up to her to make sure this same power didn’t consume them. Staying high in the air to avoid the chaos, the young psychic hovered in a halo of Phoenix fire as she closed her eyes and reached out to the minds of her friends. However, she quickly discovered that this was going to be much more difficult than she imagined.

“Wow…talk about your psychic interference!” she grunted as she clutched her temples, “The Professor wasn’t kidding. This is potent stuff we’re dealing with here!”

“Can you block it out?” asked Storm as she kicked up more winds.

“I think so. I’ve never faced this kind of psychic attack. It’s…weird for lack of a better word.”

“Do need a better word to get the job done?”

“Since when has weird ever bothered us?” quipped Jean.

Leaving the mysterious parts to the Professor, Phoenix focused her psychic talents and erected the strongest psychic shields she could muster around her friends. She could still sense a malevolent mind trying to reach them, but it wasn’t going to happen on her watch no matter how weird it was.

With their minds protected, the X-men attempted to subdue the unruly mob that had swarmed the National Mall. They were outnumbered, but not underpowered. Rogue and Gambit began by first disarming the Secret Service agents. A number of these men had guns and tasers. They were a bit too uncoordinated to use them effectively, but they tried none-the-less to use them and Rogue made sure she was the target since she had her invulnerability protected her.

“Take your best shot, fellas! This will be the only time you can get this angry at a beatufiul woman!” she taunted while hovering a few feet off the ground.

“DIIIIIEEEEEEEE!” the crazed men yelled.

Taking the bait, they all raised their weapons and fired wildly at Rogue. Even a few civilians got into the act, grabbing various debris and throwing it right at her. Everything bounced right off her. While they were distracted, Gambit made his move.

“Any time, Cajun! Just because Ah can take bullets doesn’t mean they ain’t annoying!” Rogue called out.

“My apologies, cherè. Remy just enjoys watching you look tough!” said the Cajun.

Taking out a whole deck of charged cards, Gambit attacked the Secret Service agents from behind. He skillfully flicked his cards upwards so they rained down on top of the crowd. A series of sharp soon followed, blinding and disorienting the crowd momentarily. This gave Gambit and Rogue the window they needed to move in and disarm them. Gambit used his bow staff to knock the guns out of each of their hands and giving them a light charge to make them explode. Rogue was more direct, flying around the crowds and grabbing the weapons one-by-one. Once in hand, she crushed them with hands to render them harmless.

Once disarmed Rogue and Gambit tried to knock them out, but this proved more difficult than expected. Gambit used his staff to land blows that would normally put a normal person on the ground, but these people were so crazed they fought through the pain. He even broke the jaw of a Secret Service agent and he didn’t even slow down.

“Dang! These hommes ain’t goin’ down!” commented Gambit as he narrowly avoided being tackled from behind by a burly civilian.

“Fightin’ does wonders for pain tolerance! Just be glad they ain’t protesting gun control!” grunted Rogue as she pushed off one man and two women who tried to drag her to the ground.

“Remy almost prefers hippies,” he muttered as he used his bow staff to defend himself.

Rogue and Gambit continued to struggle, but they weren’t the only ones getting overwhelmed. Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Iceman were working in conjunction with Storm’s wind attacks in and effort to drive back the raging hoards. With no fighting skill or weapons, they were the most vulnerable and the most difficult to deal with.

Iceman went on the offensive, firing carefully aimed ice blasts to freeze the civilians by the legs to stop them from charging. This would cause them some discomfort, but they would be no worse for wear in the long run. This successfully hindered some attacks, but since there were so many moving targets plenty of crazed civilians got through. Nightcrawler and Shadowcat tried take care of those that made it through. Shadowcat stayed close to Iceman’s side, using some Krav Maga to take down a couple of burly men that tried to tackle her and Iceman. She also used her phasing powers to lure a couple of teenagers into tackling each other. Unfortunately, the rest of the civilians weren’t so foolish.

“God bless America indeed,” she grunted as she narrowly phased through a woman that tried to choke her

For those that got past Shadowcat, Nightcrawler used his agility to teleport around the crowds and take out anybody trying to land a blow. He was careful, using his mercenary training to hit people in targeted areas like the neck, back, and shoulders. This stunned, but didn’t stop anyone. Having to be so careful was not something he trained for in the Azazel. It didn’t help that the more he fought, the more enraged the crowds became. A few young kids even managed to grab onto his legs and bite him, forcing him to teleport around more rapidly.

“Ugh! Zhey just keep coming!” grunted Nightcrawler as he back-flipped over a middle-aged man and his wife, the bite marks on his legs still stinging.

“It’s like a plague without the vomiting!” groaned Shadowcat, who was forced to phase through three young women who tried to scratch at her with their manicured nails.

“Now I know what it feels like to be in a zombie movie!” groaned Iceman as he unleashed a blizzard blast to clear away some of the people that surrounded them, “They better not start asking for our brains!”

“I don’t think zhey’re gonna ask for anything! All zhey seem to care about is fighting!” said Nightcrawler as he teleported away from five charging teenagers.

“Augh! I almost prefer zombies!” groaned Iceman as he took a blow to the head from a woman carrying an extra heavy purse.

Iceman had to let up his ice attacks briefly while he recovered. Luckily, Shadowcat came in and fought the woman off with some sweep kicks. She fought off a few more attackers, allowing Iceman to regain his composure and resume his attacks. Storm stepped up her winds as well, helping to clear the area a bit more. They still kept coming with no end in sight.

Dealing with misguided citizens was enough of a hassle, but dealing with zealots like the Purifiers was even harder. Cyclops, Wolverine, and Beast focused on containing them while the others kept the area around them clear. Unlike the civilians and the Secret Service, their eyes glowed with a much more of a sinister gleam. It wasn’t just rage that consumed them. They were looking to kill, not just cause chaos.

“KILL EM ALL!” yelled one of them.

“RIP THE FREAKS TO SHREDS!” yelled another Purifier.

“I’d like to see you try, bub!” snarled Wolverine as he drew his claws.

“Careful, Wolverine! Remember, we are not to cause them any lasting harm!” Beast reminded him.

“I’ll be gentle! Even if they won’t!”

Clenching his fists, Wolverine charged towards the dozen or so Purifiers that gathered in a clearing that had been formed by Storm’s winds.

“Hrrrrrrrrahhhhhhhhhhh!” he roared.

“KILL THE MUTANT!” yelled the Purifiers in their maddened state.

Without hesitation, the uniformed men took out their weapons and aimed straight at the incoming figure. They were equipped with Uzi style guns, fully automatic and fully lethal. They weren’t able to use them in the beginning of the fight when they were all crowded together. Now that they had a clearing, nothing was stopping them.

They didn’t even take time to aim as they unleashed a shower of bullets upon the incoming Wolverine. Not many hit, but the rounds that got through tore through the former living weapon’s vulnerable flesh. Pain quickly followed. It was a pain Wolverine knew well and was more than equipped to handle. Gritting his teeth, he ignored the bleeding wounds and swiped at their guns. He managed to cut several of them to shreds and caused a few to even explode in the process. It was just like fighting the goons of Weapon X, only this time he had to try and not hurt these guys. That was much easier said than done.

“He always has to show off that healing factor of his,” groaned Cyclops.

“It’s not showing off if it’s effective,” quipped Beast.

“Please don’t start with semantics, Beast. With Wolverine, it’s always showing off.”

While Wolverine drew the fire of the Purifiers, Cyclops took aim with his visor and unleashed an attack of his own. Using careful, well aimed blasts he disarmed the enraged men by hitting their hands. Those that still tried to attack were hit with a secondary blast to the chest. It was low powered, but it was enough to keep them dazed. It took about two dozen blasts, but the X-leader eventually disarmed each Purifier. This allowed Wolverine to attack more directly, grabbing the men by the necks and arms before slamming them to the ground. Those that tried to grab him were cut by his claws, leaving a bloody wounds but nothing they couldn’t heal from with light to moderate medical treatment.

To keep Wolverine from getting too caught up in the violence, Beast moved in and pulled off some acrobatic flips in mid-air to land just behind his feral friend. Once in place, he pulled off a few drop kicks to down a couple of Purifiers. Four more tried to surround him, but Beast took them out too with a skilled spin kick that knocked two flat on thier faces and sent the other two right into Cyclops’s line of fire. It helped make quick work of the Purifiers and kept the riot from getting any bloodier.

“Errrrr I don’t need you babysitting me, Hank!” grunted Wolverine as he kicked off three more Purifiers, “I ain’t gonna go berserker!”

“I’m not assuming you will. I’m merely lending a hand...or foot in my case!” assured Beast as he pulled of another jump kick on two more Purifiers.

“You better be!”

Snarling with primal intent, Wolverine continued his assault on the Purifiers. He and Beast drew their ranks away from the crowds. Along the way the wounds escalated. Despite their best efforts, people were getting hurt. Some had serious wounds on their heasd and torsos. Some had been knocked out cold. Yet they kept on raging, fighting with reckless abandon against anybody in their way.

Cyclops re-assessed the situation on a minute-by-minute basis. All the while he kept firing carefully aimed optic blasts at the Purifiers, the civilians, Secret Service agents that were giving the others a hard time. It was hard to keep a strategy when they were outnumbered by people they were trying their best not to hurt. At the very least they were drawing the riot away from the main ceremony. But there was only so far they could go with this. For everyone they took out, five more were drawn into the riot. They were all distinguishable by their glowing red eyes, showing that the mysterious psychic force behind them was not letting up.

 “At this rate the whole city will be on us!” he mused, “Who the hell could be behind this?!”

The X-leader took out a couple more Purifiers who had come in as reinforcements. He then turned around to see if Rogue and Gambit needed help with the Secret Service. That’s when he came across an unexpected presence.

“Callisto!” he exclaimed.

Lying about twenty feet from the base of the Washington Monument was the unmistakable figure of Callisto, the renegade Morlock who could never seem to stay out of trouble. Reacting swiftly, Cyclops knocked back a few more Purifiers and civilians and ran towards the downed mutant.

“You never could resist picking a fight with the surface world, could you?! Just what the hell have you done?!” Cyclops demanded.

“Ugh…X-men,” she groaned, “There’s a sight I can do without.”

She was about to fall back when a big, burly man wearing a “Kelly For President” shirt tried to grab her. She instinctively tried to defend herself, but Cyclops beat her to the punch. He fired a concentrated optic blast at his head and effectively knocked him out. It was a gesture that only slightly surprised the rebellious Morlock while reminding her of what was at stake.

“Ugh…damn you Stryfe,” groaned Callisto as she struggled to her feet.

“There’s more where that came from, but I’ll gladly trade past grudges for answers!” said Cyclops as he confronted Callisto apprehensively, “Now are you going to tell me what’s going on or are you going to let it get worse?”

“Save your breath, Cyclops. You’re lucky I’m not in the mood to be stubborn,” she said, still rubbing her head.

“That’s a first,” scoffed the X-leader.

“Don’t get cute with me, pretty boy! Betrayal has a way of overshadowing grudges.”

“Betrayal from who? Is this the same nut behind this sudden outbreak of glowing red eyes?”

“He’s not nuts! He’s as clever as he is devious!” said Callisto sternly, “We’re just pawns to him! We have to stop him before…”

She stopped in mid-sentence before she could offer further insight. Without warning, her face contorted in pain and she fell to the ground again. Cyclops tried to catch her in hopes of extracting answers.

“Stop who? Damn it, Callisto! Tell me what you…” he began.

Suddenly, the rebellious Morlock’s eyes shot open to reveal the same red glow that had infected the rioters.

“TO HELL WITH IT! LIKE YOU CARE!” she roared as she shoved the X-leader away from her.

“Please don’t let that be what I think it is,” groaned Cyclops.

“FORGET THE PLAN! FORGET THIS STUPID CEREMONY! YOU X-MEN HAVE BEEN A PAIN IN MY ASS SINCE DAY ONE! I’LL BE DOING EVERY MORLOCK A FAVOR BY KILLING ALL OF YOU!”

That maddened tone was unmistakable. Whatever force had taken over the civilians now had Callisto. In her newfound rage she lunged towards Cyclops and tried to grab his throat. The X-leader instinctively ducked out of the way and prepared to defend himself.

“So much for our only lead!” he grunted with growing frustration, “Professor, if Cerebrum is going to pay for itself, now is the time!”


Xavier Institute – Cerebrum Chamber

Professor Charles Xavier intensified his search as the situation in Washington DC devolved. Armed with Cerebrum, he was determined to uncover the secrets of this mysterious mutant signature. It involved sifting through a maze of chaotic thoughts, each tainted by the corruption of this unruly rage. This was just the kind of task for which he, Lilandra, and Hank built Cerebrum. He needed it to dliver now.

‘I know you’re out there. You’re not a normal mind, but I know you’re there. I must know who or what you are. More importantly, I must know what it is you’re trying to accomplish with all this carnage.’

It was a test of strength and spirit for Charles Xavier. He knew his X-men were out there in the midst of this chaos. They were relying on him to uncover the source of this madness. It involved him sensing many enraged minds. He never felt anything like it. It was as if something was reaching into every mind and evoking the darkest of instincts.

Despite the difficulty in filtering out these enraged thoughts, the world’s most powerful telepath continued to search. While he was scanning he had the live broadcast of the Inauguration Day ceremony projecting on one of the holographic screens.

“We’re less than a half-hour away from the big moment. President elect Robert Kelly is on the home stretch of his march to the Capitol. He’s drawn mostly cheers from the crowds, but reports of violent protests are coming in from near the Washington Monument. We are unable to get any live feed at the moment, but we’ve been ensured by Kelly spokesmen, Reverend William Stryker, that it will not affect the final ceremonies. It’s hard to say just how serious this incident is since it appears the motorcade surrounding Kelly is speeding up. Please stay tuned for more details as well as live coverage of the Oath of Office ceremony.”

It was somewhat of a good sign. Kelly’s people were keeping the incident under wraps. If they did their jobs well, then they should buy the X-men more time with which to figure this out. However, if the conflict kept growing then there would be no way to hide what was going on.

With time working against him and the new president at his most vulnerable, Professor Xavier stepped up his efforts. Clenching the sides of the revamped device, he turned up the power so he could further amplify his telepathy.

‘Hmm…this psychic shielding is most unusual. I sense one presence, but multiple forces acting on one another. It poses an interesting question as which is more powerful.’

The Professor continued to probe deeper. It was difficult navigating through the elaborate defenses. He wasn’t sure if he was getting close or not. Then something from the live broadcast caught his attention.

The broadcast was suddenly interrupted with a series of static images. The reporters on the scene started to falter as a commotion erupted behind them. Someone from the riots had reached the parade route. It was one of Stryker’s Purifiers and the Secret Service that had been protecting the reporters were overwhelmed.

“Turn that camera off! This is WAR!”

“Somebody hold him down! The guy has snapped!”

While the Secret Service wrestled him to the ground, the overwhelmed reporter tried to keep her composure.

“We…we apologize for the interference. There appears to be some technical difficulties with our…”

But before she could finish, the man shot up from the ground and attacked the reporter. Within seconds she was tackled right into the cameraman, who fell back and dropped his camera in the process. It indicated that this madness was spreading and getting dangerous close to the ceremony.

“Kill the feed! Kill the live feed before…”

The voice of what Xavier assumed was the director was cut off and the image was frozen on the projection screen. That minor conflict they reported earlier was about to become much worse. Not even the government could hide it anymore.

Xavier was about to terminate the broadcast feed so he could focus, but then something caught his eye. The final shot from the feed just happened to fall on the Washington Monument in the distance. All major news reports were probably looking for some majestic backdrop for the ceremony. But this isn’t what got Xavier’s attention. In the grainy image of the feed, he noticed something in the distance.

‘Well I’ll be. I hope that’s what I think it is!’

Closing his eyes, Professor Xavier redirected his psychic energy to the Washington Monument. This was where the chaos was at it’s greatest. It also happened to be where the X-men were deployed. Now it had something else to offer. Thanks to the advanced scanners in Cerebrum and a very expensive high definition image, he could make out a presence on top of the structure. Within moments he began to ascertain what this mysterious presence was.

‘There you are! Your shielding is still strong. Your power is still…exotic. But I will not let you ruin this for mutant-kind!’

Taking another deep breath, the world’s most powerful telepath prepared himself for a psychic scan of a very different kind.

‘Time to put Cerebrum’s full power to the test!’


Washington DC – Near Capitol

“Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation! Hail to the Chief! We salute him one and all! Hail to the Chief as we pledge cooperation! In proud fulfillment of a great and noble call!”

The traditonal songs and marches welcoming the new president echoed through the streets of downtown Washington DC as the soon-to-be President Kelly made his way towards the steps of the Capitol. He and his wife had just exited the main armored limosuine. Together, they walked hand-in-hand while waving to the cheering crowds around them. There were mostly cheers and a few jeers. For the most part, it appeared traditional and tame.

Yet as they marched, they could see some signs of trouble. The chatter amongst the Purifiers and the Secret Service was escalating. The body guards surrounding the preisdent elect moved in closer and started scanning the crowds more closely. Through the cheers he could hear some angry yells that sounded like fights were breaking out. Nothing had reached the parade route yet, but it was starting to get too close for comfort. It became so close that Reverend Stryker, who was following close behind the former Senator and his wife, ordered that the parade speed up.

“Why are we moving faster, Robert?” asked Sharon Kelly, doing her best to maintain her demeanor as the new First Lady.

“I don’t know. William, I would appreciate some answers,” he said carefully.

“Don’t worry about it, sir. It’s nothing, I assure you,” said Reverend Stryker as he adjusted his earpiece.

“If that yelling I heard over the marching band is any clue, I’m not feeling very assured!”

“I’ll deal with it!” he said strongly, “Would it make you feel any more assured if we rerouted the parade?”

“Are you giving me a choice?”

“You’re not President yet, sir. That goes without saying.”

The President elect and his wife exchanged glances. For a moment, their presidential smiles faltered. Something was clearly very wrong. They took only some comfort in the knowledge that their children were still in the armored limosuine. They may be the lucky ones. As the route started to shift, even the crowd started to look uneasy. The only one who seemed to know the full story was Reverend Stryker.

“For the grace of God the Father, somebody give me a report!” the Reverend barked into his earpiece, “What the hell is going on out there?! Why am I hearing random fights break out this close to the parade route?! Unless the second coming is upon us, someone had better contain this!”


Washington Monument

The tide was turning against the X-men now that Callisto had joined the battle. Her fighting skill and furious temper was already making an impact. She drove Cyclops back towards Wolverine and Beast, who were still struggling with a few resilient Purifiers. The X-leader tried to subdue her with optic blasts to the head and legs, but she was too nimble and whatever impact she took was easily absorbed by her durable form.

“IS THAT ALL YOU GOT, X-MAN?!” exclaimed Callisto as she went for another blow.

“Ack!” grunted Cyclops as he took a shot to the chest, “I need some backup, guys! Callisto is even more unreasonable than usual!”

“The same could be said for the Purifiers!” said Beast, who just shook off three armed men who tried to tackle him, “Wolverine and I will try to assist you as soon as we can!”

“As if I’m always up for pulling Cyke out of the fire!” grunted the former living weapon.

Wolverine was moving slower, having taken one too many gunshots. His healing was keeping him going, but a full contingent of eight purifiers were trying to pin him to the ground. They were punching him, kicking him, and even scratching at his wounds in an effort to subdue them. They were crazed in a way not unlike his berserker rage. They were pushing his feral limits, which was very dangerous for the former living weapon.

“Errrrrr you people…are pissing me off!” he grunted.

“Calm yourself, Wolverine! These people aren’t fully aware! They have an excuse, unsatisfying it may be!” said Beast as he jump kicked two more Purifiers.

It was a perfectly rational explanation, but it offered little consolation as one Purifier managed to dig fingers right into a nasty bullet wound on his back.

“Augh! Excuses my ass!” roared Wolverine, becoming even more enraged.

“Listen to Beast, Wolverine! Now is not the time to go berserker on us!” said a struggling Cyclops as he narrowly avoided a punishing kick from Callisto.

However, the urgings of Cyclops and Beast weren’t enough. Deep within the conflicted psyche of Wolverine, the rage grew. The endless attacks from crazed strangers had taken a toll. At the same time, he felt something pushing him towards the edge. All the training and discipline he learned with the X-men was giving way to his feral instincts.

“I’ve…had…ENOUGH!” he roared.

In a sudden burst of strength, Wolverine shoved the four Purifiers that had tried to tackle him. Then with ruthless intent, he roughly kicked two of them in the head and stabbed two others in the shoulder with his claws. This not only took them out of the fight, it was sure to leave them with serious injuries. When Beast saw this he was horrified.

“Wolverine! What are you…” he began.

But as soon as Beast got a closer look he realized what was happening. His eyes had shifted like all the others, now glowing with the same red hue that carried with it this inhuman rage.

“Those eyes…” Beast gasped.

“TO HELL WITH THIS SHIT!” roared Wolverine.

“Let me guess…berserker rage?” grunted Cyclops who was now pinned on the ground by Callisto.

“Worse, I’m afraid!” dreaded Beast, “This malevolent spell now has Wolverine!”

“Damn! Phoenix’s shields must be weakening! We have to…”

“YOU’LL DO NOTHING!” roared Callisto, cutting the X-leader off, “YOU’LL JOIN THE WAR ONE WAY OR ANOTHER!”

Callisto slugged Cyclops hard across the face, which kept him from giving out new orders and from helping Beast as he now stood face-to-face with an enraged Wolverine.

“HRRRRAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” the feral mutant roared as he charged his teammate.

“Ooh dear! I’ll try and lead him away!” said Beast anxiously as he narrowly dodged a lethal claw swipe.

“Better…get…moving!” grunted Cyclops, who managed to kick Callisto off of him.

Beast wisely took the advice, jumping over some nearby picnic tables to avoid Wolverine’s wrath. He sliced through everything in his path, charging forward with rage in his eyes. Beast eventually led them towards the clearing where Rogue and Gambit were keeping the Secret Service at bay. As soon as they saw Wolverine coming on, they realized they had much more serious problems.

“Wolverine going berserker…boy, who didn’t see that one coming?” commented Gambit.

“Dang it! Ah though Phoenix was protecting our minds!” grunted Rogue as she easily shoved off some agents who tried to grab at her hair.

“This mojo be stronger than we thought! We best keep our cool before we get caught with a case of red-eye too!”

Gambit kept his calm demeanor as he charged some cards and sent them flying towards Wolverine. They exploded just in front of him, which helped slow him down and gave Beast some much needed breathing room. But in the process, Gambit was distracted from the Secret Service agents. More closed in on them and more were attacking Rogue. Even though she could easily overpower them with her strength, they were wearing down her patience.

“Ungh! Stop trying to be fancy, Cajun! Help meh out already!” exclaimed Rogue.

“Gambit be right there, cherè! Just hang tight and keep lookin’ pretty!” he said as he knocked away a couple of elderly protesters with his staff.

The Cajun mutant tried to get back to Rogue, but Wolverine was still coming. The former living weapon was too dangerous, not just to them but to the civilians. He tried backing towards Rogue, but the riot kept raging. Eventually, it got to Rogue as well.

“THAT’S IT!” she roared as she shot up into the sky, escaping the grip of the rioters, “IF Y’ALL WON’T HELP MEH, AH’LL DO IT ON MAH OWN!”

“Stay with me, cherè! Don’t be giving that jaded ex-lover look before we get a chance!” Gambit urged.

“TOO LATE, SUGAH! AH’VE OFFICIALLY HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR BULLSHIT!”

Gambit watched in horror as Rogue succumbed, her eyes shifting into a bright red hue just like Wolverine. Her expression contorted in rage as she grabbed two Secret Service men by the collar and with great strength, threw them nearly 100 feet across the National Mall. She then set her sights on Gambit, who was still struggling to keep a couple of middle aged women protesters off him with his bow staff.

“TIME TO WIPE AWAY THAT COCKY LOOK ON YOUR FACE FOR GOOD!”

“Chere, don’t make Remy do this!” urged Gambit, backing away swiftly.

But Rogue wasn’t listening and neither was Wolverine. The two of them along with Callisto were lost in the rage, further depleting the X-men’s manpower while strengthening that of their still unidentified foe.

While Rogue was closing in on Gambit and Wolverine was hunting Beast, the rest of the team took notice. Shadowcat, Iceman, and Nightcrawler were shocked to see their teammates giving into this madness. Nightcrawler was especially affected by the sight of his enraged sister. He fought his way through a couple of teenagers and teleported up to Iceman for help.

“Zhis madness has mien sister! Now it’s personal!” he exclaimed, “Iceman, try to freeze her before she snaps Gambit in two!”

“While I wouldn’t mind Gambit being taken down a peg, I’ll stick to upstaging him at math tests!” said the Iceman.

Diverting his attention from the civilians, he fired a concentrated beam towards Rogue to freeze her in stride. He managed to form a fairly thick sheet of ice around her legs and hips. This kept her on the ground, but it wouldn’t hold her for long. Her strength was already causing it to crack. Iceman tried to reinforce it.

It seemed to be working when he and Nightcrawler were hit with an unexpected. Someone managed to sneak up on them and hit them from behind with a hard kick to the back. This stopped Iceman’s blast and stunned Nightcrawler. What shocked them even more was who it came from.

“YOU GUYS WERE JUST GOING TO LET ME HANDLE THIS MESS ALL ON MY OWN?!” exclaimed a very angry Shadowcat, “SOME FRIENDS YOU ARE!”

That tone was unmistakable. It was just as enraged as Rogue and Wolverine. When Iceman and Nightcrawler turned around and saw her eyes they got the confirmation they feared.

“Ungh…not you too, Kitty!” said Nightcrawler.

“Dude, she’s my ex! How do you think I feel?!” exclaimed Iceman with dread.

The two X-men fell back as Shadowcat attacked. Iceman tried to freeze her legs, but she phased right through it. Nightcrawler instinctively grabbed his friend and teleported him out of the way. But all this did was make Shadowcat even madder. Her eyes and the eyes of Rogue, Wolverine, and Callisto continued to glow. There was no trace of their identity or their humanity. There was only blind rage and a desire for war.

The X-men quickly retreated back into a defensive position, doing their best to keep their friends from harming themselves and other civilians. Time was running out fast and they were running out of manpoer. It would only be a matter of time before the violence overwhelmed them.

“Now would be a great time for the Professor to pull one of his trademark miracle!” groaned Iceman.

“Have faith, mien friend!” urged Nightcrawler as he teleported out of the way from a coordinated attack by Shadowcat and Rogue, “Save vhatever anger you have for whoever is behind zhis madness! He can’t remain hidden much longer!”


Meanwhile

“No! Their minds…can’t…maintain…the shields!” grunted the struggling and very frustrated Phoenix.

Sweat formed on her face despite the bitter January cold. Jean Grey was used to pushing the limits of her psychic powers, especially after her encounter with the Phoenix. But this was a struggle of a very different kind.

She had been hovering over the battlefield since the fight started, using her telepathy to shield the team from the mysterious psychic rage. She started off successful for the most part, but as the battle dragged on her defenses failed. Even though her talents were second only to Professor Xavier, it wasn’t enough. She could feel it creeping into the minds of Rogue, Wolverine, and Shadowcat.

‘Don’t push me out, guys! Listen to my thoughts! Let me help you!’

But try as she might, she wasn’t getting through. This mysterious power kept blocking her out. Even the Phoenix sensed the futility.

‘It’s not working, Jean. Something very dark has taken them over…something beyond human.’

‘Guess you would know! Any chance this is a friend of yours?’

‘I’m…sorry. But I’m at a loss to say.’

That wasn’t too promising. Never-the-less, Phoenix kept fighting. The fiery halo surrounding her intensified as she stepped up her efforts to reach her friends. Before futility could creep into her thoughts, her efforts were interrupted by a familiar but welcome voice in her mind.

‘Phoenix! Please tell me your mind is still able!’

‘Professor? You have no idea how glad I am to hear from you! This madness is taking several turns for the worse!’

‘Indeed it has. The news feed just cut out. The riot has almost reached President Kelly!’

‘I hope you didn’t just chime in to give me the bad news! I could really use something more uplifting right about now!’

‘I’m more than happy to oblige. Cerebrum was able to break through the psychic static. I now have a fix on the source of this mayhem!’

‘Please tell me it’s close!’

‘It’s closer than you think! Look at the top of the Washington Monument! You’ll see the cause of all this needless carnage!’

Phoenix shifted her gaze, halting her psychic probing for a moment and looking up towards the top of the famous monument. Sure enough, there was a figure standing near the edge. Whoever it was, they were officially the main target.

“I see him!” said Phoenix strongly, “I’m going after him!”

‘Careful, Phoenix! This being has a very unusual power!’

‘I’ll be fine, Professor! Just give me a few minutes and I’ll end this!’

With time running out for the ceremony and for her teammates, Phoenix ascended on a stream of fiery bursts. As she neared the top of the Washington Monument, she felt the strength of the presence grow. Whatever forces were behind it, she was not dissuaded. She fearlessly approached the lone figure with the sole intent of taking him down.

Stryfe, who hadn’t let up in his psychic attack since it started, didn’t even budge at the sight of the approaching X-woman. In fact, he grinned at her presence. He not only expected this. He had been looking forward to it.

“Finally, I get to face one of the famous X-men!” he seethed, “Took you long enough!”

As soon as Phoenix reached the edge of the monument, she hovered over him with menacing cosmic fire surrounding her.

“So you’re the one causing all this?” exclaimed Phoenix.

“You were expecting someone in a Halloween costume with a cape?” quipped Stryfe, “Not everyone can be as foolish as Magneto, you know?”

“I sure as hell wasn’t expecting an old man in clothes that are probably older than I am!” retorted Phoenix.

“Sorry to disappoint you, but great power can come with a humble presentation. I, Stryfe, stand before you not as some comical conqueror like Magneto. I am merely a mediator whose role is to speed up the inevitable!”

It was hard to tell if this old man was crazy or just senile. Whatever the case, Phoenix wasn’t waiting around to find out.

“I don’t know what role you’re talking about, pal! But I’m pretty sure my role includes me sending you back into retirement!”

“You’re more than welcome to try,” said Stryfe with brimming confidence.

Clenching her fists, Phoenix unleashed a powerful telekinetic burst. She even through in some Phoenix Force flames for good measure. Stryfe didn’t even try to dodge them. His eyes flashed bright red as he put up a telekinetic shield to deflect the attack. It was much stronger than she expected, but she was not dissuaded.

“You’re…pretty…good!” grunted Phoenix as they were soon locked in a psionic stalemate.

“You’re not so bad either!” said Stryfe, showing only minor strain, “Your telekinesis is advanced. I sense another power behind it. Guess that’s something else we have in common!”

“What…what are you babbling about?” said Phoenix as she continued to struggle.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” quipped Stryfe ominously, “Too bad there’s one glaring difference that keeps us from being allies?”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” spat the young psychic.

“I’m smarter than you!”

His eyes flashed briefly. At first Phoenix wasn’t sure what he was doing.Then it hit her. A sharp gust of wind blew at her from the side and she was sent tumbling through the air and away from the monument.

“Whoa! What in the…” she exclaimed as she regained control.

Then she saw what had happened. That wind didn’t come from Stryfe. It came from Storm, who was now hovering over her with malicious intent. Her eyes were now red just like the rioters. It didn’t take long for Phoenix to figure out what Styfe was doing.

“Oh no! Not you too, Storm!” exclaimed Phoenix as she quickly put up a psychic barrier.

“SOME TEAMMATE YOU ARE! YOU SAY YOU’LL PROTECT OUR MINDS AND YOU FAIL MISERABLY!” yelled Storm in a rage.

With burning anger, she unleashed a fury of tornado-like winds towards Phoenix. She even threw in some lightning and hail to make it harder to deflect. Phoenix, already drained from putting up psychic defenses and attacking Stryfe, had to push herself again to defend against the wrath of nature.

“Ugh! No wonder she’s dating Wolverine,” she groaned.

“YOU WILL JOIN IN THE FIGHT! SOON EVERYONE WILL JOIN!”

“That’s Stryfe talking, Storm! Not you!” yelled Phoenix over the winds, “Fight him! Not me!”

“I’LL FIGHT WHOEVER I HAVE TO!”

It didn’t sound like Storm was going to be very reasonable. Now she was forming a blizzard with the cold air to attack Phoenix. The young psychic tried to defend herself with her telekinetic shields and Phoenix flames, but it was a stalemate at best. This was her friend and teacher. She was reluctant to fight back and Stryfe knew it. She could only try to fly out of the way and get her away from the source.

As the battle between Phoenix and Storm raged, Stryfe watched on with supreme satisfaction. Everything was going exactly as he planned. The mindless masses below were fighting in an escalating onslaught of rage. Callisto foolishly trusted him and was set to take the fall as the instigator. The X-men added the final piece, trying to play hero and only reinforcing the carnage.

Looking into the distance, he saw the fight nearing President Kelly’s motorcade. The Secret Service and the Purifiers were losing the battle. The news feeds were probably catching on by now. Once the leader of the free world was caught in the crossfire, both humans and mutants would find any number of reasons to blame each. It would set the stage for the coming war and he would be the guiding force.

“This is so easy it’s pathetic!” he laughed, “I expected as such from the humans, but not the mighty X-men! I guess I was asking too much of them when I hoped for a challenge!”

‘You might yet get your wish.’

The sound of an unwelcome telepathic voice broke Stryfe from his triumphant poise. Shifting defensively, he quickly scanned the area. Someone was getting through his psychic shields and actually talking to him. That was something he hoped to avoid.

“Who dares? Show yourself!” he demanded.

‘I’m all around you, Stryfe. You cannot keep your mind from me any more.’

Stryfe kept looking around in confusion. He soon felt a powerful psychic presence close in on him. Before his glowing red eyes, he saw a ghost-like figure appear just over the ledge of the monument. He quickly recognized it as Charles Xavier. He wasn’t there in person. This was an astral form. Stryfe had seen it before, but only the most advanced telepaths could project themselves like this.

“Charles Xavier, I presume,” said Stryfe bitterly, “I don’t know how you managed to break my psychic shields, but I’ll make you wish you hadn’t!”

‘Did you really think you could get away with this madness? What is it you are trying to prove? That humans and mutants are destined to fight?’

“I could care less about human/mutant relations! This isn’t about me making a point! This is about me fulfilling the wishes of my master!”

‘And who might this master of yours be?’

“There’s for me to know and you not to know…not yet anyways!”

In a show of defiance, Stryfe unleashed a telepathic burst at the astral form of Charles Xavier. As soon as the burst hit, the figure of the powerful telepath immediately disappeared. At first it looked as though Stryfe successfully shut Xavier out. But before he could start celebrating, his psychic presence re-emerged behind him.

‘You’re not the only one with an edge, Stryfe. If it’s a fight you want, show your worth and stop getting others to do your dirty work!’

“Now where’s the fun in that?” he grinned as his eyes flashed bright red, “I beat your X-men’s best defenses! I can just as easily beat you!”

‘Care to test that theory?’

Stryfe unleashed a new barrage of psionic attacks. Just as before, this caused Xavier’s astral form to disappear on impact. But just as quickly as he vanished, he reformed again right next to him. Only this time, it wasn’t just one form that appeared. It was many. Stryfe was not dissuaded unleashed more psionic barrages. The result didn’t change. Xavier’s astral forms disappeared and re-appeared, multiplying with each successive attack. It was a play on Stryfe’s mind, a strategy that only advanced psychics could utilize. Stryfe had been hoping for a challenge and now he was getting it.

Soon the psionic barrage had created so many astral forms of Charles Xavier that he was completely surrounded. They eventually started closing in, putting a Stryfe into a psychic vice that was invisible to the naked eye but all too real to the mind. Xavier’s mind, supplemented by Cerebrum, started attacking from all directions. It forced him to back away from the ledge and struggle for the first time in this endeavor.

“Errrrrrr! You think this trick can work against me?” grunted Stryfe as he angrily thrashed at the astral forms with his fists.

‘On the contrary, Stryfe. Or should I say, Mr. Alexander Khan. It’s already working.’

Using his real name only further enraged the powerful psychic. This got him to thrash more violently, further disorienting him. Xavier used this opportunity to intensify his attack, sending all his astral forms at him simultaneously. They struck his mind as if it were part of his own body. While his defenses were formidable, they were reaching a breaking point.

Seething with a rage similar to that of his victims, Stryfe unleashed a new barrage of psionic bursts to drive back some of the astral figures. They shot out like bright blue bolts of energy, blowing back Xavier’s numerous figures and showing off the great power he wielded both in mind and spirit. He understood that time was on his side and Xavier was running out.

“Argh! You’re already too late, Xavier! As soon as my wrath reaches the new president, there will be no going back! A new era shall soon dawn! An era ruled by…”

But before he could finish his taunting, a voice rang out from above.

“Hey old man! Rule this!” yelled a grinning Phoenix as she soared overhead.

Stryfe turned around just in time to see Phoenix flying right at him. He had only a split second to react. He narrowly ducked out of the way, nearly falling over the edge of the monument in the process. It allowed Charles Xavier’s astral form to pin him for a moment, but once the surprise wore off he unleashed a new round of rage the blew off the pile of ghostly forms. It allowed him to return to his feet, his eyes now glowing with a greater focus than ever.

“Ha! Did you really think you could beat me with such a childish sneak attack?” scoffed Stryfe.

“Wait for it…” said Phoenix, her grin never waning.

While Stryfe was still near the edge of the monument, Storm came flying in on a stream of powerful winds. Her eyes were still glowing bright red and she was still under Styfe’s influence. As such, she didn’t stop to consider what she was about to do next.

“YOU CANNOT RUN FROM MY WRATH!” she yelled, the clouds around her now sparking with energy.

In an attack of blind rage, she formed a powerful bolt of lighting in the clouds around her and directed it towards Phoenix. What she didn’t realize, however, was that Stryfe was right in the way.

“Oh dear…” was all Stryfe could say.

The lighting shot out from the clouds in a blinding flash. Phoenix was able to divert it with a telekinetic shield. Stryfe, having dedicated too much of his energy from defending against Charles Xavier, was unable to form an effective barrier. In a split second, the lighting struck him head, filling him with painful shocks from which no mysterious force could protect.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” he cried out into the cold winter air.

It was all over within five seconds. The electricity surged through Stryfe, paralyzing his mind and body. His glowing red eyes flickered and faded within the blinding sparks. In the process, the psychic attack that he unleashed upon so many minds ceased. Once it was over, the sparking faded and Stryfe went limp.

With Stryfe defeated, hundreds of civilians and security personnel snapped out of their daze. The men, women, and children that had been so consumed with malicious anger a moment earlier froze where they stood. Even those that had opponents trapped in a grapple or pinned to the ground stopped to take in what they were doing.

The X-men were among those dazed minds no longer clouded by rage. Storm was one of them and when she came to her senses she nearly fell out of the sky. Luckily, Phoenix was there to catch her with her telekinesis.

“Hnn…” groaned Storm as she clutched her head.

“Welcome back to the world of the sane, Storm,” said Phoenix as she helped her stay upright.

“Ugh…my head is killing me,” she said, “Can’t remember what happened. Does that mean what I think it means?”

“I’ll fill you in on the details later. I hope you take them into account the next time you assign homework,” grinned Phoenix.

Jean’s words confirmed what she feared. She succumbed to the rage like so many others. It was not a pleasant feeling, yet she managed a reassuring smile towards her student. At least the worst of it was behind them. However, these details that Jean mentioned might not sit as well with others.

While Phoenix helped Storm recover, the many astral forms of Charles Xavier rejoined into a single figure. Still hovering slightly over the monument, he gazed out over the crowded National Mall. It was a surreal moment. One minute there was just a din of violence and the next minute an ominous silence fell over the crowd. Hundreds of normal and security personnel people were just as confused as Storm, not knowing what happened but having a faint idea of the madness that had consumed them.

‘So many confused minds and so few rational explanations. This is going to be quite difficult to cover up, even for Kelly’s people.’

“That doesn’t mean they won’t try, right?” said Phoenix.

‘I’ll try and make it easier for them. I’m going to send out a psychic signal to calm their minds. It should help ease the mental strain left by Stryfe’s attack.’

“You might want to get some emergency crews to the people while you’re at it,” said Storm, still holding her head, “The fighting was pretty intense. I’m sure there will be plenty of injuries that won’t look good on the evening news.”

‘I don’t doubt that, Storm. Rest assured, I’m already on it. I’ll get the security staffs involved as well. Near as I can tell they were able to protect President Kelly’s motorcade. He’s still set to take the Oath of Office.’

“As if that’s going to be the end of it,” groaned Phoenix, “Kind of makes you wonder whether or not this mission was a success or failure.”

Jean wasn’t entirely wrong in her assessment. While they had defeatedt Styfe and ended the senseless fighting, they hadn’t forgotten about the inauguration. Senator Kelly was still going to be President of the United States. Once he got wind of this incident, it was sure to begin this new administration on a tumultuous note.

‘We stopped Stryfe from starting a war. That much we can call a success. In this new era, our progress may be slowed. But it will NEVER be thwarted.’


National Mall

It was a surreal moment amidst the Inauguration Day crowd. With Stryfe defeated, the blind rage stopped influencing them and they returned to their normal, rational states of mind. It left many dazed and confused. Many others who had been hurt in the fighting were still in pain and some were even unconscious. The psychic calm from Professor Xavier helped them settle down enough to re-establish some semblance of clarity.

“Whoa...what just happened? And why does my face hurt?” groaned a middle-aged woman with a large black eye.

“Did someone spike my drink or something? I feel like I’m hung over or something!” groaned a young man, who was leaning over a picnic table for support.

“Speak for yourself, kid. I think I’ve got a concussion!” groaned an older man.

“Mommy! I think my arm is broken!” cried a young boy.

“Calm down sweety. I think mommy has a cracked rib,” groaned the boy’s mother.

A harsh reality was setting in for everybody that had been influenced by the rage. The X-men were also among those in need of such clarity. Wolverine, Rogue, and Shadowcat shared in the dazed feeling that the rest of the crowd experienced. Callisto felt it too, only she was more frustrated than confused. Unlike everyone else, she was betrayed by Stryfe. He turned her into a pawn just like everyone else. That made her madder than any psychic induced rage ever could. Lucky for Stryfe, she was too drained to hunt him down and make him pay. She was also fully subdued by the X-men.

“Damn you, Stryfe. Damn that arrogant charm and sniveling treachery,” she muttered bitterly as Cyclops helped her up.

“Whose Stryfe? Ex-boyfriend or something?” inquired Cyclops.

“Shut up, X-man,” she spat, “If you think for a second I’ll let you take me in you’ll have an even greater fight on our hands!”

“Oh I wouldn’t worry about us turning you in, Callisto. The Professor is probably making a call to Marrow and the Morlocks right now. The way I see it, you’re going to face justice no matter where you end up.”

Callisto replied only with a bitter scowl. Cyclops may have been a boy scout, but he understood the politics of the Morlocks. There was no way she was ever going to face justice in a human court of law. They would probably brand her as a terrorist and treat her with the same scorn as Magneto. The Morlocks, however, had their own court system. It wasn’t exactly forgiving, but it tended to be more just when dealing with mutants. Since the X-men were all about justice, they would see to it she repented up to her transgressions. They also knew she was still loyal to her people. She could fight the humans, but not her Morlock brethren.

With Cyclops keeping an eye on Callisto, the others helped their friends come to their senses. Gambit, Iceman, Nightcrawler, and Beast each stood by Wolverine, Rogue, and Shadowcat as they proccessed what just happened. Wolverine shrugged off the help while Rogue and Shadowcat were left to endure the inevitable awkward moment.

“Deep breaths, mien sister,” said Nightcrawler as Rogue leaned on him for support, “No more temper tantrums are necessary.”

“Dang…feels like Ah did enough venting to last all winter,” commented Rogue as she rubbed her sore head.

“That mean it be safe for Remy to get within ten feet of you, cherè?” said Gambit from a distance, “If memory serves me right, you did threaten to rip out Remy’s entrails and choke me with them.”

“Ah actually said that?” said Rogue warily.

“Amongst other things,” said the Cajun as he moved in closer, “Remy can’t remember them all, but if you feel like making it up to me…”

His flirtatious tone trailed off as he moved in to give her somewhat else to lean on. That cocky, yet comforting tone helped break Rogue from her daze if only to roll her eyes her eyes.

“Does your charm have an off switch, Cajun?” she retorted.

“Nope! Just that friendly Remy charm that the femmes can’t resist!” he said playfully.

“Just cause Ah’m free now doesn’t mean Ah’m in the mood. Keep it up and Ah might have to revisit that threat about choking you with your entrails.”

“It’s official, Zhen. You’re going to be all right, mein sister!” grinned Nightcrawler.

That earned a slight smile from Rogue and from Remy as well. If they were already on the path to recover, it bode well for them and everybody who had been a victim of this rage.

Shadowcat was in a state similar to Rogue. She was also confused and drained. Iceman offered his support, allowing her to lean on him while she caught her breath. Since he was a former love interest, it couldn’t help but be a little awkward.

“Feeling better, Kitty?” asked Iceman with a friendly gesture.

“Getting there,” groaned Shadowcat, “Um…I didn’t do anything too extreme did I?”

“If by extreme you mean trying to claw my eyes out with your fingernails, then yes,” he joked, “But I was iced up so no worries.”

“So that’s why my fingers are bleeding,” she muttered as she looked down at her once perfectly manicured nails.

“Would it make you feel better if I said you got in a few low blows that I felt through the ice?”

It was an ominous mark of just how much the rage consumed her, but it wasn’t the worst scar she could have had. Iceman didn’t seem to take it too personally, although some parts were awkward for him too.

“While we’re on the subject uh…exactly how much of that rage was from our pseudo-breakup a while back?” he asked.

“Honestly, Bobby, I don’t remember thinking about that or pretty much anything for that matter. Maybe it was subconscious, but…you know, I’d rather not dwell on it.”

“Right…just asking,” said Iceman, “But we’re good, right?”

“I clawed at you and now I have to get another manicure. Why don’t we just call it even and go from there?” Shadowcat suggested.

“Works for me.”

Shadowcat managed a smile despite her daze. Iceman smiled too as they rejoined Rogue, Gambit, and Nightcrawler. Everybody else around them seemed to be coming around. The confusion was wearing off and a harsh acceptance was settling in.

The only one who continued to linger was Wolverine. Getting over this kind of rage was nothing new for him. It came along with his berserker rage. It may be easy for the others to get over it, but it wasn’t quite so simple for him.

“Are you going to be okay, Logan?” asked Beast, “You look…”

“I’m fine, Hank!” Wolverine barked, “Just give me a moment.”

“Perhaps you should get in touch with the Professor or Phoenix. They might be able to use their powers to…”

“Damn it, Hank! I can handle it!” he spat, “I’m not a freakin’ cripple! I don’t need a psychic to hold my mind together every time I lose it!”

“I would ask if you were certain, but I see the irrational part of this enraged episode has yet to wear off. I would also ask that you discuss this when you’re in a more reasonable state, but something tells me I’d be waiting a long time.”

Beast left Wolverine to ponder his remarks, assuming he didn’t ignore them. At first the feral mutant just sighed. Beast certainly didn’t deserve that. He was sure to beat himself up about it later. Ororo and Jeannie would surely come to him later, most likely beating him up even more as needed. His berserker rage was one of those issues that never seemed to go away despite all the friends and lovers who were there to support him. This riot may have just provoked him, but it still reminded that he had not escaped this burden.

Beast cast Wolverine a sympathetic gaze before catching up with Cyclops, who was still keeping an eye on Callisto. At the same time, a couple of Secret Service agents and Purifiers approached them. They were as confused as the rest of the crowd, but they were a bit more apprehensive.

“You abominations have a lot of explaining to do!” yelled one of the Purifiers, who had the added frustration of a broken jaw and a black eye to deal with.

“Take it easy, sir. We understand you’re confused,” coaxed Cyclops, “I promise you the X-men will issue a statement to…”

 “A statement?! We should have you arrested where you stand!” spat the Purifier.

“Arrest them?” said one of the Secret Service agents, who was also dealing with some broken facial bones and a broken hand, “Since when did Stryker’s people have any jurisdiction in this matter?”

“Don’t tell me you’re going to side with these monsters! I don’t know what stunt they’ve pulled, but I know they’re responsible for this! We’ve got hundreds of injured people, some of them serious!”

“I also received word from the good Reverend himself that there were broadcast disruptions. The motorcade had to be re-routed! Someone has to pay for this damage!”

“And they will,” assured Beast as he joined his fellow X-man, “We’ll be happy to deliver the man responsible this to the authorities. We’ll even help with the assorted clean-up that’s certain to be necessary.”

“Don’t try to bribe me with your charity!” spat the Purifier, “As soon as Reverend Stryker hears of this…”

But before the enraged Purifier could finish his threat, he got his wish. The communicator on his waist started beeping, indicating a incoming message from Stryker himself.

“Unit six, report! Somebody talk to me! What the hell is going on out there?!”

The sound of Reverend Stryker’s voice echoed with frustration. He was probably just as confused about this as the victims. Chances are he was going to start making the same conclusions as the rest of the Purifiers. To keep him from getting to ahead of himself, Cyclops reached for the communicator and grabbed it from the man in front of him.

“Hey!” yelled the Purifier.

“Please, calm down,” said Beast, getting in his way with a somewhat intimidating look, “Why don’t I take a glance at those injuries while my associate has a word with your leader.”

“I’d rather...” the Purifier began.

“That wasn’t a suggestion.”

Beast threw in a slight growl to reinforce his point. The Purifier wisely listened and stepped back as Cyclops addressed Reverend Stryker through the communicator.

“This is Cyclops of the X-men,” he said into the communicator, “You can give the all-clear now. We’ve neutralized the threat, but a lot of people are going to need medical attention.”

“X-men?! So mutants were behind the attack!”

“One mutant was behind it, sir. A very strange and disturbed mutant from the looks of it,” said Cyclops as he glanced over towards where Stryfe had landed.

“Speak for yourself! I knew your kind would falter like the sinful creatures you are! You just couldn’t resist spreading your sin on a day such as...”

“Not to stop you when you’re on a roll, sir, but you would only be doing this guy a big favor!” retorted Cyclops as he led some Secret Service agents over to Stryfe, “This man wanted to cause a scene. He wanted humans and mutants to wage a war. If you push this crusade of yours, you’ll be doing him and everyone as crazy as him a favor!”

“And why should I believe the words of the wicked?”

“Because those words are backed up by thousands of witnesses and the world’s most powerful telepath. You may think you’re on a crusade, but on whose terms? You push this, you’ll be the aggressor for all the wrong reasons. You’ll be the new Graydon Creed, playing right into the hands of your enemy. Is that what you want?”

There was only silence in response. Cyclops struck a nerve, hitting on Reverend Stryker’s desire for a righteous crusade. A man like him wasn’t going to carry out a war if he didn’t feel God was on his side. This was a case where he didn’t have a choice. He either had to swallow his pride and wait for another chance or risk causing more violence at a moment when the people clearly didn’t have an appetite for it. Luckily, Stryker didn’t press his luck.

“You arrogant heathens…you think this changed anything? Our crusade is a righteous one! It will happen no matter what tricks you throw at us! The righteous will win on the day of judgment!”

“Your welcome, Reverend,” replied Cyclops stoically.

The X-leader didn’t wait for a response and turned off the communicator. Looking around at the damage and destruction, it was not a promising start to President Robert Kelly’s administration. Men like Stryker would be more determined than ever and so would mutants like Stryfe. It ensured X-men would be very busy for the next four years.


Later

“I, Robert Edward Kelly, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States so help me God.”

This fateful oath was heard by millions all over the world, American and foreign alike. Despite conflict that nearly overran the National Mall, the ceremony played out as it traditionally had with the old president stepping down and a new president stepping up. Once the rioting ceased, the broadcast resumed. News reports were starting to spread about the conflict, but for the moment it took a back seat to this momentous occasion.

As he took this oath, Reverend William Stryker and a legion of his best Purifiers joined him to secure the area. He didn’t have time to soak in this historic moment. He was too busy getting reports from the authorities on the damage caused by the riot. He had already begun the process of managing the story, making sure that the incident didn’t become a national embarrassment. Several suspicious looks from the new president indicated that he knew something was amiss. He would certainly have a lot of explaining to do once the festivities were over.

His crusade was now on shaky grounds. The mistrust the new president had shown in him earlier was only widened by this incident. In between his security efforts, he took the time to listen to President Kelly’s oath.

“And so I say unto you, my fellow Americans, that this is not just the next step. This is a new beginning of a new era. In this era we as a people will come together to not just cope with fear, but to overcome it. Issues about the economy, national security, and human/mutant relations concern us all. I personally have shared in the journey and in that experience I have come to see just how important it is that we move forward carefully. I no longer wish to evoke fear of the future. I seek hope for everyone who wishes to live in a world without fear. If that means standing up to oppressive powers as well as reaching out to those we may not agree with, so be it. May God bless this exciting new era for us all and may God continue to bless this great nation. Thank you.”

With a smile and poise worthy of a leader, the new President Robert Kelly waved to the endless crowd of people before him. They all cheered his inspiring words and shared in the hope of working towards a better world.

What concerned Reverend Stryker, however, was his choice of words. He understood that politicians needed to be careful with the way they phrased their ideas. Kelly told him beforehand he would be cautious with his remarks. He wanted to believe him, but it was still disconcerting to see the new president believing in too much of his own rhetoric.

“Not too bad, considering the circumstances,” said one of Stryker’s lead Purifiers, “I hate to think what would have happened if we failed to stop the riots.”

“I wish I could share such optimism, but I’m afraid even my faith has limits,” said Stryker distantly.

“What do you mean, sir? We’ve already covered our basis. The Secret Service is working with the emergency workers and our people are making sure the media doesn’t run wild with this story. As far as they’re concerned, it was just a potentially volatile incident that was contained just in time.”

“It’s not the riot that concerns me,” the Reverend continued, “When I first met Robert, I saw a fire in his eyes that I thought I could relate to. He had in him the same desire to carry out this crusade as I, yet now I’m not sure I see that fire anymore.”

“You think that thing with his son has affected him?”

“Among other things,” affirmed Stryker, I’m more concerned about the bigger picture. If he is no longer dedicated to our cause, then he may not give us the support we need for our crusade.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” said the lieutenant anxiously, “With God’s on our side, I’m certain he’ll do the right thing.”

“For his sake and the sake of countless souls, he damn well better.”


Next Issue: Dark Messenger

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