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Volume 4 -- Issue 88 -- Cambrian Explosion Part 5

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Cambrian Explosion Part 5
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The human race is undergoing a new stage of evolution. Mutants are being born with extraordinary powers. Some embrace them while others hate and fear them. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men choose to use their powers to fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. Now they are in a struggle to use these powers against the forces of evolution itself.

Their long-time nemesis, Magneto, has unleashed the Cambrian, a powerful ancient creature. This mysterious mass of living evolution merged with the master of magnetism and in their twisted partnership, they seek to integrate all mutants into a collective so they can create a new era of life, thus dooming those that came before it to extinction.

Professor Xavier believed he has a way to destroy the Cambrian. He must get up close to it and use his telepathy to sever the psychic communication between its various parts. This has led him to literally fight his way into the Cambrian with the help of the X-men and remnants of the Brotherhood. With the Cambrian poised to succeed, he must finish the job before others with more destructive means finish it for him.


Pentagon – Mutant Security Agency Hub

“Yes Mr. President…no, we don’t…I can’t tell you…no, not because I won’t! I seriously cannot tell you why our cruise missiles aren’t launching! The target markers haven’t…with all due respect, sir, are you sure? We still have time to…no, I understand…I know…just make damn sure we’re out of options. Otherwise we’ll be paying a mighty high price.”

General Grimshaw hung up his phone in a fit of frustration. Nothing was going right. Just when it seemed his attack was poised to begin, his agent in the field failed to come through. For a moment, they had the target acquired. They were locked on and ready to launch the missiles. Then the target lock disappeared. It was as if Mystique had completely destroyed the system. Perhaps trusting her had been a mistake and now he and many innocent people may pay for it.

The Pentagon was swarming with activity. Every major officer in the building had gathered in the confined Mutant Security Agency hub. Everyone seemed prepared for Armageddon to unfold before their very eyes. Even the analysts and technicians were starting to settle, ready to concede that this was it.

“Sir…we still have no word on target acquisition. The subs report they’re ready, but even they’re getting anxious,” said one of the female lieutenants.

“They’ve also been getting orders from the President,” said a higher ranking Colonel, “They’ve armed a number of tactical nuclear missiles and are ready to launch as soon as they get the verification codes. If we don’t launch those missiles…”

“I just got off the phone with the President. I know what he’s planning to do. I don’t need to be reminded how screwed we are,” said General Grimshaw firmly.

A heavy silence fell over the room. General Grimshaw was at a loss. For once his plan was falling apart. None of his tactical brilliance could save him now.

“So what do we do now? Should we just let the President launch the nukes?” asked a nearby Corporal.

“Tucking our tails between our legs is never an option, Corporal.”

“Then I would advise you to make an exception for once in your life, General!” said one of the high ranking Majors.

General Grimshaw scolded the Major and was about to respond when his cell phone went off again. Setting aside his anger for his fellow officers, he checked to see who it was. When he recognized the number, a new ray of hope emerged.

“Hold that thought, Major,” he said as he answered the phone.

Upon pressing a few buttons, he checked to make sure this line was secure. He didn’t need anyone asking him questions about this later.

“Yes? This is Grimshaw,” he said.

“General, you know who this is so I’ll make it quick. I’m locking on the target right now, but if you want to spare yourself a world of hurt you’ll only launch when I say so.”

“Oh? And why should I do that?”

“Because Charles Xavier said so.”

General Grimshaw’s remained stoic and calm. All eyes were on him. Nobody had a clue as to who he was talking to. They didn’t have to. All they needed to know was that his plan was about to come through after all.

“Good enough for me,” he said flatly.

The decorated General then turned to his subordinates who were waiting eagerly for orders of any kind.

“Send a message to our subs. Tell them we have a lock on the target.”

“We do?! I mean uh…of course,” said one of the young analysts.

“Are they okay to fire?” asked one of the female officers.

“No…not yet,” said General Grimshaw, “Tell them there’s been a new development on the ground. Do not fire those missiles until I give the order.”

“But what about the President, sir? What if he fires first?” asked one of his lieutenants.

“Send a message to the Joint Chiefs through a secure line. Tell them it’s all going to be taken care of,” he said with the utmost confidence, “Nukes won’t be necessary. They have my word.”


Genosha – Inside The Cambrian

“Hold on, Professor! It’s going to be a bumpy ride!” grunted a very tired Phoenix.

“Keep going, Phoenix! I sense we’re close!” said an equally drained Charles Xavier, who was being carried within a telekinetic bubble through the depths of the Cambrian.

It was like a descent into Hell or wherever Hell threw their garbage. The second they entered the Cambrian, they were met with a bizarre and dangerous world forged from the twisted mind of an ancient creature. The overall structure of the citadel was still intact. They could make out the shapes of the doors, hallways, rooms, and furniture. That was where the similarities ended.  Every square inch of the structure had been overrun by the Cambrian. It was as if it had made the citadel a skeleton for its body. As such, it didn’t make the ascent easy for them.

From every wall at every turn, the brownish goo reacted to their presence. It shot out dozens of tentacle-like extensions and tried to crush them like they were invading bugs. Phoenix was able to fight them off with her telekinesis and Shaman’s stones added an extra layer of resistance. However, this protection was limited as the Cambrian kept forming massive globular barriers in their path. It forced Phoenix to choose different routes and even make a few of her own with a healthy burst of telekinesis.

When they reached what was once the elevator, Phoenix was able to break through the doors and make her way into the shaft. This would allow her to ascend through the whole structure, but the ancient creature seemed to know this. When they looked up through the shaft they saw thick, slimy barriers looming in front of them.

“We have to keep moving, Phoenix! Magneto is in the throne room! I can feel it!” said Xavier strongly.

“I was afraid of that,” said Phoenix as she struggled to catch her breath, “I don’t think my telekinesis will be enough to break through that gunk.”

“Which is where I come in. I said I would help in this conflict.”

“I appreciate it, Phoenix. Are you ready for this?” she asked warily.

“I am ready, Jean. We’ve earned each other’s trust. Let us put it to good use.”

Since becoming host to the Phoenix Force, she was very careful about how she pushed her powers. The cosmic being was still a fraction of its former self. It was limited by the barriers of its own immaturity. It was a risk to push the Phoenix Force, but this was a time when the risk outweighed the consequences.

“Okay Phoenix…let’s do this!” said the determined young woman.

Professor Xavier held on as the powerful psychic summoned the cosmic being within. A dazzling display of fiery flames enveloped her. Through this flame, the outline of a fiery bird formed and let out a powerful cry that made even the Cambrian tremble a bit.

Armed with this cosmic power, Phoenix and the Professor shot up through the elevator shaft like a bullet from a gun. Each barrier was shattered along the way, bursting into flame at times when it was struck by the heat of the cosmos. One-by-one, the barriers fell and the fires of the Phoenix Force intensified. It took less than a minute to get all the way to the top. When they reached the throne room, the powerful flames were still surrounding them.

“We did it! We’re here!” said Phoenix.

“My flames finally burn brighter. Yet something still feels…”

Before the Phoenix Force could finish, they were hit with a punishing psychic blast. It was so strong that it caused Phoenix and Professor Xavier to fall out of the air.

“Augh!” Phoenix cried, clenching her head as the flames flickered out.

“My head…” groaned Professor Xavier, “Some sort of psychic attack…a strong one no less.”

“You got that right, insect!”

Professor Xavier looked up to see two new figures standing over him and Phoenix. One was Blink, who had not left Magneto’s side since the Cambrian first merged with him. The other was the Cambrian influenced Quentin Quire. With both their eyes glowing bright red, the Cambrian’s influence was apparent. For Quentin, it was more than welcome because it gave his psychic powers the extra boost he needed to take them down.

“You’re brave for having made it this far, but evolution will NOT be stopped!”

Quentin and Blink sneered as a series of Cambrian tentacles formed out of the ground and grabbed the two X-men. Now bound from the neck down they were dragged into the heart of the throne room where the Cambrian laced figure of Magneto sat stoically on his throne. He looked like a statue with his glowing red eyes. Numerous veins lined his body, almost as if he had become the Cambrian’s heart. It was a sight that Charles Xavier was ill-prepared for.

“Erik…” Xavier gasped.

“No…not anymore. Erik is merely an unpleasant memory. He is a fossil of a form that has long since gone extinct. I am so much more now.”

“You’re…an abomination!” he retorted, “Erik was many things, but he was nobody’s puppet!”

“Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong. I like to think we’re complementing one other. With this one you call Erik Lensherr, I’ve seen the world so clearly before. Like an insect gaining the mental capacity of a man, the Cambrian has shown me the way! This is our destiny, Charles!”

“I see no destiny before me! I only hear the ravings of a man driven mad by a creature that doesn’t understand what it’s a part of! You’re both victims and you’re others are suffering because of it!”

“Suffering is but a relative term. All life suffers. It is only through evolution that we can overcome suffering. That’s the beauty of what I’m about to do. Once every human mutant is integrated, we will evolve as one rather than many. For it is only as one that we can become truly evolved.”

“And what of the countless innocents out there who will suffer because of your evolution? Part of being a collective is being absent of responsibility! If you reject that, then you reject your own humanity!”

“It is but a small price to pay for progress. I do not expect a mind such as yours to understand. But you will. Both you and your X-men shall see, Charles Xavier. Moreover, you’ll come to understand.”

“Like hell I will!”

Burning with renewed determination, Professor Xavier launched a psychic attack directly on Magneto. He set aside all reservations he had about attacking this man who had been once been his friend. He did not hold back, unleashing a tidal wave of telepathic energy meant to cut off psychic communication between the Cambrian and its twisted collective.

The attack seemed to catch Magneto and the Cambrian off guard. The many tentacles going into his body shuttered violently, causing discomfort to both him and the entire structure around the citadel. The attack was so intense that blood started dripping from Xavier’s nose and ears. Such power could not be brushed aside even from the likes of the Cambrian.

“Ungh…you dare attack me?!”

“This…madness…ends…now!” yelled Charles Xavier.

“You insult the very forces you champion, Charles! Did you really think I would let you this close, if I wasn’t certain I could defeat you?”

Through the blistering psychic attack, Magneto stammered to his feet. The whole collective could feel the psychic communication link between every piece of the creature falter. Quentin and Blink started to show signs of discomfort and fell to their knees. Only Magneto remained upright and strong.

“Augh…it hurts!” groaned Blink.

“Err! In the name of evolution, do something already!” grunted Quentin.

“Silence! This is but a minor inconvenience for us all!” grunted Magneto.

Fighting through the psychic onslaught, the Cambrian Magneto lunged forward and grabbed Charles Xavier by the neck. Almost instantly, the attack waned. The powerful psychic’s frail body caught up with him as he was choked mercilessly by his former friend.

“You see, Charles Xavier? You never stood a chance! I’ would be disappointed in you if I hadn’t evolved beyond such petty notions!”

Snarling intently, Magneto used his powers to levitate magic stone from Shaman that was secure in Professor Xavier’s pocket. The rock had iron in it so he was able to rip it away from him, leaving him completely vulnerable.

“NOOO!” gasped Charles Xavier in horror.

“Yes, my friend. Once again, we shall work together! Only this time, those annoying ethical concerns of yours won’t hold us back!”

Xavier could feel the Cambrian overtaking him. The slithering mass from the floor and from Magneto’s hand was seeping into his body. Without the stone to protect him, nothing was keeping him from being brought into the collective. He had no more strength. His attack had failed. He had failed.

Both Xavier and Magneto fully expected the transformation to begin. However, it did not happen as smoothly as it did with the others. As the Cambrian weaved its way into his body, it started to struggle unexpectedly. Something within this man was keeping them from inducing the transformation. As the Cambrian Magneto sensed this, his seething intent turned to curiosity.

“Oh Charles…what has happened to you?”

“Errrrr! So…much…pain! Can’t…stop it!” grunted Xavier through the agony.

“More than pain…you were never powerful enough to stop me. You may think otherwise, but you know this to be true. I see now. I see what is holding you back. I can help you, Charles. The Cambrian can help you!”

Less than ten feet away, Phoenix watched this scene unfold in horror. She was still restrained by the Cambrian’s tentacles. For whatever reason, the transformation hadn’t taken hold yet. That meant there was still time to save him. A new resolve quickly came over her. Professor Xavier had failed. Now she was going to have to save him and that meant tapping more cosmic power.

“I…I can’t believe it. The Professor…we have to save him!” she said desperately.

“Forgive me, Jean, but the last burst left me drained. I’m not sure I can do this in my current state.”

“Then we’ll have to step it up!” said the young psychic, “You’ve been an ember long enough, Phoenix! Time to take the training wheels off and grow!”

“Are you sure that’s wise? I’ve still much to learn. I don’t want to walk the path that led me to my great hunger.”

“I don’t want it either…which is why we’ll do this together! You said we earned each other’s trust! Well let’s use it in another way! Just remember…power only corrupts when we lose our humanity.”

They were strong words from a strong woman. The Phoenix Force may not have been human, but it had come to understand the value of human life. That was why this monstrosity had to be destroyed. Only this time, destruction would be a means to end suffering and not cause it.

“You’re right, Jean. I can expand my power so long as you expand with me.”

“I’m with you, Phoenix!” said Jean Grey strongly, “Now come on! Let’s give this thing a taste of the cosmos!”

The cosmic being began pushing itself in ways it hadn’t since it was reborn. The tiny ember that had been growing inside Jean Grey’s spirit had been holding back out of fear of corruption. In an instant it overcame that fear and burned hotter. As the primordial flames of creation grew, a new round of cosmic fire consumed Jean Grey’s body. This cosmic fire momentarily blinded Blink and Quentin while causing the tentacles holding her to falter.

It was a careful balancing act with Jean making sure this power only grew to a certain point and the Phoenix making sure old barriers did not hold them back. This harmony of power, passion, and humanity led the Phoenix Force and Jean Grey to unleash a punishing telekinetic burst coupled with cosmic flames. This not only burned away the tentacles keeping her bound, it also knocked back Blink and Quentin.

“Such power…” gasped Quentin.

“We must stop her!” exclaimed Blink.

“You want to stop a cosmic force?” scoffed Phoenix, “Now who’s more evolved?”

With a simple gesture, the powerful psychic released another telekinetic shockwave that knocked Quentin and Blink clear across the throne room and into the hole made in the elevator shaft. This display of power was so great that it caught Magneto’s attention. He still had Professor Xavier in his grasp. He thought he was neutralizing the only threat to his power, but he was wrong.

“No…it’s not possible!” exclaimed Magneto.

“Believe it, you overgrown mud ball! This monster fetish you call evolution is finished!” said Phoenix as the flames radiated from her body.

“You…you can’t! This is my purpose! Our kind MUST evolve! I must evolve!”

“You’ve had 500 million years to evolve! Consider yourself extinct!”

With eyes glowing with the fiery flames of the Phoenix Force, Jean Grey flew towards the Cambrian Magneto and grabbed him by the head. Then with the added help of her cosmic power, she finished what Professor Xavier started. She telepathically cut off the Cambrian from the rest of its parts. The creature’s face contorted in pain as it tried to resist. But this time, it was no use. It anticipated that it could overcome Charles Xavier’s attacks. It never anticipated having to overcome something like the Phoenix Force. Under her cosmic power, the ancient creature’s resistance crumbled. When it finally succumbed, it let out a pained cry that could be heard in every shard of the Cambrian all over the world.

“AAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!”

As soon as it was psychically cut off from its collective, every part of the Cambrian started withering. On every wall in every corner of the citadel, the thick brown layers covering the structure turned gray. The silvery slithers within the creature flashed white hot before letting out a high pitched hissing noise as the entire structure wilted into dust.

The transformation in Magneto, Blink, and Quentin was equally dramatic. The brownish silver matter that had consumed their bodies literally melted off and the hulking deformations that turned them into monstrous beasts began to revert. They let out pained groans as their bodies shrunk back to their normal size. It caused them strain, but not nearly as much as the initial transformation. They all ended up passing out. The slithers that had been consuming Professor Xavier flaked off as well, but the most profound transformation came from Magneto.

His body had been the most affected by the Cambrian so when the thick shell that formed around his body started dying, it was quite a spectacle. His glowing red eyes flickered violently and a strange blackish goo fell from his body as if it were blood. The veins that once pumped with Cambrian returned to normal and his face became human again along with the rest of his body. As the creature dissolved, Magneto fell to his knees in a defeated daze.

“Evolving…devolving…withering away like dust. So sad…so boring…all gone now. It’s all gone,” he rambled.

“I’m not sure what you’re saying, but you don’t sound all Cambrian-like anymore so I guess that’s a good thing,” grinned Phoenix.

“It most certainly is,” said a breathless Charles Xavier, “You’ve done it, Jean! The Cambrian is burning itself out again!”

“Does that mean our friends are going to change back?”

“It means the whole world is going to change back! Once the central core is destroyed, mutants everywhere will return to normal. This crisis is almost over.”

“Almost?” said Phoenix, still immersed in cosmic flames.

“Yes…there is just one more task to complete.”


Pentagon – Mutant Security Agency Hub

“General Grimshaw, sir! Something’s happening!” exclaimed one of the analysts.

“I can see that, soldier. We all can,” said General Grimshaw as he and a bewildered team of analysts watched the scene unfold on the monitors.

“That brown cloud is fading. The energy readings we were getting earlier have stopped,” said one of the lieutenants, “Something must have gone horribly wrong with that mass over the citadel because it’s falling apart like a house of cards!”

“Is this a good or bad thing? What does it even mean?” asked the Colonel, who was just as confused as the rest of the officers present.

General Grimshaw was silent for a moment. It seemed his trust hadn’t been misplaced after all. For his young organization, it was a promising sign.

“It means Charles Xavier has succeeded,” said the General.

“Xavier? What does he…” began one of the other high ranking officers.

But Grimshaw didn’t have time to explain himself. He quickly made his way over to the terminals where his lieutenants had been keeping in touch with their submarine fleet.

“Do we still have a lock on the citadel?” he asked them.

“Um…yes sir! The target scanner is getting a clear signal,” affirmed a female lieutenant, “The cruise missiles are locked and ready to go!”

“Then on my order, tell them to launch.”

“Yes sir! I’m sending them the codes right now!”

The lieutenant and her various co-workers went to work with new energy. A powerful sense of relief came over them. At last they were striking this threat directly. General Grimshaw seemed to know a lot more details than he was letting on. Few were concerned so long as it meant this crisis was almost over. It also meant that a new set of questions would need to be answered at this point.

“What happens now, General?” asked one of the Colonels, “President Kelly is going to want a hell of an explanation and so am I.”

“And you’ll get it, Colonel. Everyone will,” he assured them.

“May I assume that the explanation for some will be different than the one a privileged few will get?” asked a high ranking Major skeptically.

“You can assume whatever makes you sleep easier at night, Major. All you and the rest of the world need to know is that we’re in for a hell of a clean-up.”


Genosha – Magneto’s Citadel

“The missiles have been launched! Impact is in 30 seconds!” yelled Mystique from the top of a nearby building.

The X-men and Brotherhood took immediate cover. Moments ago they watched the Cambrian structure covering Magneto withered. The whole globular outer shell crumbled before their eyes, letting out a high pitched hissing noise as if it was crying out in a final gasp. It was proof that Professor Xavier and Phoenix had succeeded. Now they had a new problem on their hands.

“Wanda! Use your powers to put up a hex field around the base!” ordered Havok, “Make sure it collapses on itself and doesn’t crush anybody in the process!”

“No problem…I just have to control the outcome of 900 billion possibilities that go into a crumbling structure!” said the Scarlet Witch, her eyes glowing brightly with hexing energy.

“You really think you can protect them all? Some of our friends are still down there!” exclaimed Shadowcat as she helped get a dazed Blob out of the ground.

“That’s where Polaris comes in!” said Havok, “There should still be plenty of metal in that thing! If she’s up to it, she can use it to shield anybody caught in the blast!”

“I’m more than up to it! I can’t let my half-sister do all the work now, can I?” said Polaris, which earned her a grin from Wanda.

“Great plan! Now let’s get the bloody hell away from this thing before those missiles hit!” exclaimed Psylocke.

The two teams worked quickly. There were still hundreds of mutants who had gathered around the citadel. They were all noticeably dazed after the Cambrian started faltering. The brownish goo that had overtaken their bodies was fading and all the tentacles that were connecting them to the main structure had since died off. They no longer appeared to be under the Cambrian’s control, but they were in no condition to run or get out of the way.

With the missiles approaching, the X-men and Brotherhood worked on getting as many of their friends as they could away from the structure. Nightcrawler and Colossus got Pyro, Quicksilver, Avalanche, and Blob out of the blast zone and behind a nearby building while Storm, Shadowcat, and Gambit did the same for Rogue, Cyclops, and Iceman. Havok stayed behind with Polaris and the Scarlet Witch, who were preparing themselves for the impact to come.

“I see the missiles!” exclaimed Havok as he pointed into the sky.

“I’m ready for them!” affirmed the Scarlet Witch, “But what about Professor Xavier and Phoenix? They’re still in there with my father!”

“They’ll make it out!”

“What makes you so sure?”

“They’re X-men! They always find a way!”

Polaris and the Scarlet Witch didn’t have to wait long for Havok’s to be vindicated. With the missiles drawing closer, they saw several figures fly out through the top of the citadel in a halo of fire. It was Phoenix and she had Professor Xavier, Magneto, Blink, and Quentin Quire hovering next to her in a telekinetic bubble. She flew down towards them at high speeds, making it about halfway to the ground before the missiles hit.

“Do it now, Wanda!” yelled Havok.

The impact of the cruise missiles on the citadel filled the sky with a brilliant flash and a deafening bang. The whole structure was shattered under the explosive power, consuming it and the Cambrian shell in a plume of fire and smoke. The sheer force of the blast sent the structure tumbling to the ground in a destructive onslaught.

At the base where so many mutants were still in a daze, Polaris and the Scarlet Witch used their powers to protect them. The Scarlet Witch focused her hexing powers on the massive structure, making sure that it fell in a particular way that would not cause it to crash down on any innocent mutants. This involved manipulating probability on a massive level to cause the building to collapse on itself. To protect them from the debris that broke off, Polaris used her magnetic powers to gather as much metal as possible and form a circular wall around the base. This ensured any debris that came crashing towards a dazed mutant would be blocked.

As the structure crumbled, Phoenix narrowly escaped the fireball with the others hovering close by. The extra power from the Phoenix Force made it noticeably easier. Both Jean and the Phoenix Force felt it as they soared through the clearing skies.

“We did it, Jean! We stopped that monstrosity from unleashing untold destruction.”

“Feels a little ironic, doesn’t it?” grinned Phoenix.

“I’m not entirely certain what that term entails, but I would say it is fitting. My ember now burns, yet the corruption that once consumed me did not return. I would say that is a major step forward…for both of us.”

The young psychic smiled even in the midst of the crumbling citadel. Once she pulled away far enough, she turned back to watch the once dominating structure fall apart. By the time it was over, there was still fire and smoke coming from the rubble. But the destruction had passed and the Cambrian was no more.

“It’s all gone,” said Magneto distantly, “The key to our evolution…the very future of our kind…turned to dust. Dust that makes my eyes water and my mouth dry.”

“Uh…is he okay, Professor?” asked Phoenix warily.

“He’s alive,” said a very exhausted Charles Xavier, “As for being okay, I’m not entirely sure.”

Magneto certainly looked dazed in more ways than one, but the countless other mutants afflicted by the Cambrian were looking better. The entire population reverted from their monstrous Cambrian shapes back to their previous forms. Many discomforting groans echoed about as the brownish silver slime dissolved and melted off their bodies. It was not a comfortable process, but it returned them to normal.

“Hnn…what happened?”

“Ugh, am I hung over or something?”

“Where’s my mommy? My head and tummy hurt!”

“Whoa…what happened to the citadel? Did Magneto throw a tantrum or something?”

There were a lot of confused and weakened mutants. The entire population of Genosha seemed to wake up from the same collective nightmare. They didn’t seem to have any memory of what they had done, which was probably for the better. The only one who seemed to carry the lingering effects of the ancient creature was Magneto.

Phoenix landed with Professor Xavier, Magneto, Blink and Quentin not far from where the others had gathered their recovering friends. Havok, Polaris, and the Scarlet Witch rushed over to join them. By now everyone had reverted back to their normal form. They were visibly spent. Their clothes were ripped and they were clearly weakened from the ordeal.

“Dad…what just happened?” groaned a shaky Pietro Maximoff.

“We had evolution in the palm of our hand, son,” said Magneto distantly, I let it slip through my fingers and now I can’t stop seeing stars. They’re so colorful…and ugly.”

“Huh?”

When Havok, Polaris, and the Scarlet Witch arrived, they were confused as well.

“Father? Did the Cambrian do something to you?” asked Polaris anxiously.

“Whatever it did, we’re here now,” assured the Scarlet Witch, “The Cambrian is gone. It’s over now.”

“Over?” scoffed Magneto, his voice still oddly dazed, “Over doesn’t even begin to cover it, my child. The end has come…and it left us behind.”

Quicksilver exchanged glances with Polaris and the Scarlet Witch. Now he was even more out of it.

“Ugh…I think I need to pass out for a while,” he groaned.

“If only we had that luxury,” said the Scarlet Witch, holding her brother as he slipped into unconscious.

“What…what’s wrong with him? I thought he was free from the Cambrian!” said Polaris anxiously.

“He is,” said Professor Xavier, “I think…he has a bit more to recover from. As do I.”

Professor Xavier finally allowed himself to pass out as well, his body having endured great strain even without the Cambrian. He was caught by Colossus, who was accompanied by Shadowcat. She checked his pulse while the Russian mutant held him up.

“He looks pretty bad. And the Cambrian never even infected him,” said Shadowcat anxiously.

“He did push himself quite hard,” said Colossus, “For a man in his condition, he’s had to be strong beyond his limits.”

“For a guy as strong as you I can imagine,” she said with a half-smile, “I’m sure he’ll be okay. The Professor is tough. We’ll need to be tough too.”

“You don’t sound too worried.”

“I’m an X-man. I don’t have the time or energy to worry,” quipped Shadowcat.

Colossus found himself smiling again. This girl had quite an attitude, but in a good way. She and the rest of the X-men carried themselves with uncanny strength. Having dealt with unsavory people for so long, it was humbling to fight alongside these fellow mutants who did the right thing with their powers rather than make excuses for the sake of what he thought was necessary. His thoughts drifted back to Illyana, leaving him to contemplate where they would go from here. Clearly, he had some major decisions to make.

While Magneto, Quicksilver, and Professor Xavier were being treated, the others emerged from their Cambrian induced daze as well. Havok and Phoenix looked over a very dazed Cyclops. Gambit and Nightcrawler helped Rogue recover from her woozy state. Storm carefully tended to the still growling Wolverine, who seemed to be dealing with both the effects of the Cambrian and his berserker rage. Psylocke looked over Iceman who was close by. Despite being visibly dazed, Bobby Drake still managed an awkward grin.

“Oh man…did I just die and go to heaven? And is heaven filled with hot Asian chicks?” he said distantly.

“It’s official. Bobby Drake is okay,” grinned Psylocke.

She helped the young man sit up and gather himself, using a little telepathy to relax him. She also looked over towards Storm as she did the same for Wolverine.

“Need any help over there, luv? Your boyfriend sounds a little grumpy.”

“He always sounds like that,” said Storm as she tenderly brushed his messy hair to the side of his face, “I only wish that was my main concern.”

“What do you mean?” asked Psylocke, “I would think he’s used to recovering from being someone’s meat puppet by now.”

Before Storm responded, Wolverine opened his eyes and looked up to see Storm hovering over him. But that wasn’t all he saw. In the distance behind her, he saw the faint outline of Mystique standing on top of a building. It was hard to tell, but he could swear she was looking back at him.

“Ro? Is that…Mystique?” grumbled the feral mutant.

“You must be seeing things, Logan. Please…don’t strain yourself,” she said in a tender yet solemn tone.

Her gentle touch helped soothe his pain. At the same time, Storm grew anxious as she looked behind her to see Mystique still looking down at them. It didn’t look like she was going to come down and check on them. She seemed content to keep her distance. It was probably for the better because it meant avoiding one too many awkward conversations.

“Tell me…do you remember anything?” Storm asked intently.

“Hnn…that a rhetorical question?” muttered the former living weapon.

“You know what I mean, Logan,” she said in a more serious tone.

“Sorry darlin’. Wish I could give you all the details of what it felt like to have some ancient goop coursing through my veins. Guess you’ll just have to use your imagination.”

“I see,” said Storm with a distant sigh, “In that case don’t strain yourself. I suppose some things are better left unsaid.”

Wolverine decided to take her word for it. He muttered a string of incoherent word and sank into his lover’s embrace, but not before looking back towards Mystique one last time. Of those few things he remembered, she seemed to be one of them. It was a mystery neither one of them had the energy to confront right now, but it was definitely something they would have to address sooner or later.

While Wolverine was still confused, Rogue seemed to be struggling in a different way. She had already regained consciousness and was already upright hugging her knees. With her clothes torn it was impossible for Gambit and Nightcrawler to get too close and embrace her. It was painful too because there were few times when she needed an embrace like this.

“Ah can’t believe Ah did it again!” she lamented, “First with Warren and now with this Cambrian thing! Ah must be cursed!”

“Remy’s gonna assume that just be the ancient voodoo still lingering in your system. You ain’t gotta be upset, cherè. It’s over now,” coaxed the Cajun mutant.

“Over mah ass! Ah’m back at square-fucking one!”

“Better an untouchable femme than a mindless monster,” he told her.

Rogue looked up at the man she still harbored such strong feelings for. It looked as though he wanted to hold her, but because of her tattered state he couldn’t. More tears formed in her eyes and she buried her face in her arms. Gambit was at a loss while Nightcrawler offered a simple gesture with his gloved hand.

“I understand vhat you’re going through, mien sister,” he said softly, “I vish I could say it vas over too, but I know it’s not. Ve trade one struggle for another. Even if it isn’t as big, it’s still a struggle.”

“Dang Kurt, did you get eaten by this thing too?! You sound like it twisted your world worse than mahne!” groaned Rogue.

“Let’s just say it brought a few zhings to light zhat I’m still dealing vith,” said the German mutant sadly, “Personal zhings zhat aren’t as easy to resolve as beating back some 500 million year old creature.”

“Sounds like Ah missed out,” she muttered.

“You’re not zhe only one,” he said with a sigh, “I’ll fill you in on zhe details later. Just know zhat vhatever ve’re going through, you von’t be zhe only one feeling cursed.”

Rogue swallowed another hard sob, but managed an affectionate glance towards her adopted brother. This was one instance where touch wasn’t necessary. Kurt had a talent for speaking to her in a way that was just as good as a skin-on-skin hug. Having been overwhelmed more than once in her effort to cope with her powers, his support meant a lot to her.

It was a support that Remy Lebeau couldn’t offer for once. Looking at Rogue and her brother, his demeanor fell. He could understand Nightcrawler having more empathy in this instance. He was dealing with some pretty heavy issues with Amanda. For once, Remy was not equipped to console this woman that he cared about so deeply. That hit him a lot harder than he expected.

“By the way, your mere says hi,” said Gambit flatly.

“Mah mama?! Dang, Ah really did miss out!”

“You have no idea and you should consider yourself lucky,” sighed Kurt.

Rogue had more than one issue to confront as she recovered from her experience and she wasn’t the only one. Just off to her side, Cyclops was coming around as well. He had been resting comfortably in the arms of Jean Grey, who was still radiating with the gentle flames of the Phoenix. While she was holding him closely, Havok was anxiously watching over. Even though he and his brother had been at odds, it still mattered to him that he was okay.

“Hnn…” groaned the X-leader softly.

“Shh…don’t strain yourself, handsome. You’re in good hands now,” said Phoenix lovingly.

“That you are,” said Havok with a slight grin.

“Alex Summers, did you just say something nice to your older brother?” she teased.

“Keep it down, Jean. Don’t spoil it for either of us,” he quipped.

Looking at his brother, Alex Summers was at a bit of a loss. Whenever he and Scott crossed paths, they couldn’t stop themselves from clashing. Even though it wasn’t anybody’s fault this time, it affected him more than it used to. He thought back to that psychic conversation he had with Jean and how he had to take on the protector role that Scott once had when they were kids. It gave him a new perspective and one he didn’t care to brush aside this time.

“I’m glad you’re okay, bro. I don’t know how much you’ll listen to me after all the bullshit I put you through. I’ll just say I kinda understand now. Everything you tried to do for me back in the day meant more than just being an overbearing jerk.”

His words earned him a look from Phoenix, but he continued none-the-less.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is…I don’t hate you as much as you think I do. I know I didn’t make it easy on you. I am who I am and you are who you are. It’s tough for two people like us to be brother, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. Hell, you’re the only family I have left. Maybe down the line we can…you know, make that mean something.”

It was probably the most sincere string of words Alex Summers had to put together. He kept shifting awkwardly, not knowing how Scott was going to take it even in his current state. He could barely look him in the eye as he watched his exhausted brother turn to him and speak.

“Hnn…did you say something?”

Havok was completely deadpanned. Phoenix almost burst out laughing.

“Figures,” he sighed as he got up to rejoin the Brotherhood.

“Don’t be bitter, Alex. He heard you,” assured Phoenix.

“He better,” scoffed Havok, “He may never get that kind of honesty again”

“Never say never,” she quipped, “If a 500 million year old entity can wake up and cause this kind of mayhem, then I would say anything is possible.”

Jean Grey had a strangely optimistic outlook on life. It made Havok wonder how she fell in love with such a stiff like Scott. Never-the-less, he was glad Scott had someone like her to take care of him. He may not be a big part of his brother’s life anymore, but it was comforting to know that he was still loved.

“Whatever,” he sighed, “If by chance we’re never able to stand one another, do me a favor and take care of him. He’s damn lucky to have a girl like you.”

“Consider it done,” smiled Phoenix.

Havok smiled back before making his way over towards Polaris and the Scarlet Witch. As he walked away, Cyclops finally emerged from his daze.

“Jean?” he said, reaching up to caress her face, “Your eyes…the Phoenix Force…it feels different.”

“I had a feeling you would pick up on that,” said Phoenix with a grin, “I’ll fill you in after I nurse you back to health. For now, let’s just say the Phoenix has taken a few more baby steps.”

“Baby steps?” he questioned.

“It is what you humans call a metaphor. Consider this a sign of progress that Jean and I have accomplished. And with your continued guidance and love, I’m more confident than ever the power of the cosmos is in good hands.”

Scott Summers smiled through his woozy state. He settled in for some much needed recovery as Jean hugged him closer. This conflict may be over, but it had left some indelible changes. The Phoenix Force had once again shown its strength. It was constantly learning just as the X-men were constantly learning. For the first time, this cosmic entity showed signs of maturity. Every step counted as they led it to a still uncertain future.

When Havok reached the Scarlet Witch, she was taking in all the destruction the Cambrian had wrought. The citadel was destroyed and the entire mutant population had just been through hell. Once again, it was all because of Magneto and his misguided attempts to ensure mutant dominance over humans.

“So what happens now?” asked Havok, “I don’t think we can go back to business as usual after a stunt like this.”

“I don’t think we should even want to,” retorted the Scarlet Witch, “The world is going to be angry with us…much angrier than before. They’ll probably want my father arrested again and put on trial.”

“That won’t go over well,” scoffed Havok, “Can you imagine the kind of uproar that would cause?”

“Which is why we’ll have to work with the humans rather than against them,” she said distantly, “There’s no way we can cut ourselves off anymore.”

“Are you talking about compromise? You know how your father feels about the C-word with humans.”

“I don’t think my father is in the right mindset to have a say in the matter.”

Havok turned towards Magneto, who was still being supported by Polaris. He seemed only half-conscious and was still rambling with incoherent words.

“I came…I saw…I conquered…then I pissed it all away,” said the master of magnetism.

Havok shook his head and turned back to the Scarlet Witch.

“Well if they do put him on trial, the insanity plea might actually work,” he commented.

“We’re not going to let that happen. I won’t let it!” said the Scarlet Witch strongly, “I took reign over this island when my father was in jail. I can do it again while he recovers.”

“That’s going to be a lot harder this time, Wanda,” warned Havok.

“Which is why I’ll need your support and support from X-men,” she said, “We can’t let my father’s mistakes ruin the potential this island has for our people. If it means resorting to compromise, then so be it.”

Her tone was solemn and rightfully so. Havok made enough compromises in his life to know how risky they could be. With all the damage done by the Cambrian, there were few ways a compromise with the authorities could resolve the challenges that lay before them. It may mean having to take a step back in order to take a step forward.

While Havok and the Scarlet Witch mused over the prospect of compromise, the rest of the Brotherhood finally awoke from their Cambrian induced slumber. Avalanche, Pyro, and Blob were set next to Magneto by Polaris and Nightcrawler. As they opened their eyes, they appeared as dazed a state as everyone else.

“Ugh…did I get drunk or something?” groaned Pyro.

“I think my organs just kicked my ass,” muttered Avalanche.

Blob was the last to awaken and as soon as he saw the ruins of the citadel, he quickly surmised that this was more than just a hangover.

“Whoa…uh did we miss something?”

Havok and the Scarlet Witch exchanged bewildered looks. They both rolled their eyes as Havok tended to his fellow teammates.

“Do yourself a favor and slip back into your comas, guys. You’re not going to like what we’re about to do.”


Mutant Security Agency – Holding Cells

“No-no-no! NOO! Don’t you leave me!” exclaimed a desperate and dazed Mortimer Toynbee.

“Damn it, he’s been saying that for the last half hour! When is he going to shut up?” groaned one of the MSA guards.

“When he finally accepts that his side lost. Too bad he’s such a slow learner,” said Captain Jack Freeman.

“At least you managed to keep him in his cell. Even if you did make quite a mess of things.”

“Just another day at the office,” sighed the Green Beret.

Captain Jack Freeman had endured another arduous day. It was more than a little reassuring to finally have it end like this. He was still probably going to catch flack for how he handled the Mutant Security Agency’s first prisoner. Seeing Toad practically squirm after all his boasting made it more than worth it.

The holding cell looked nothing like it did earlier that day. As soon as those brown blobs started falling, everything went downhill. As soon as that idiotic MP came running in with goo on his shoe, it got worse. Toad joined the club of monstrously deformed mutants and took full advantage of his new size and strength. He pretty much destroyed the entire holding cell area, crushing walls and killing a few guards in the process. He tried to get Captain Freeman to join him in his little rampage. That was his first and last mistake.

Captain Freeman fought back, using whatever debris and tools were at his disposal. Toad was much tougher in his new state, but was no match for a few heavy blows to the head and a double dose of high energy tasers he lifted from the dead MPs. Taking him down was the easy part. Keeping him in a cell was much harder. He actually had to reconstruct the holding cell using brick, mortar, and pile of broken glass. Now Toad was being kept in a pit-like cell with a pyramid-like shell of debris keeping him inside. Yet even after mutants started reverting back to their normal forms, Toad actually fought to keep his new appearance.

“I can’t go back to being a nobody! I won’t!” he exclaimed as he tried to gather as much of the brown sludge as possible.

“New flash, Toad! It’s over!” said Captain Freeman into the cell, “I just got off the phone with a few media folk. That blob thingy is officially dead. Mutant communities all over the world are returning to normal. Genosha, District X, the Morlocks, the X-men, and even some new mutant school in Boston are all back to being as normal as we mutants can be.”

“I don’t want to be a normal mutant! I was something better! I was…evolved! I’m not going to let it go!”

“Give it a rest already! You’ll have plenty of time to think about it when you’re put on trial for murder and sentenced to life.”

“You’re wrong! The Cambrian isn’t dead! It’s a force of evolution! It can’t die! It needs me as much as I need it!”

Captain Freeman exchanged glances with the MSA officer. He appeared just as bewildered as he was.

“Either he’s practicing for his insanity plea or not all his dogs are barking,” said the officer.

“I’ll keep an eye on him. At least until we can move him to a new cell,” said Captain Freeman.

“Better make it padded,” added the officer, “I think the flies he attracts have more sanity at this point.”

“That’ll either make our jobs a little bit easier or ten times worse,” sighed the mutant soldier, “I’ll contact General Grimshaw and let him know we still have our prisoner. He may still come in handy while we’re dealing with Genosha.”

“Somehow I doubt this Toad fella will be of much use to anyone. You best be careful, Captain. We got a lot of cleanup ahead of us and I don’t expect Grimshaw to spare too many men.”

“Me neither, but I think you’re underestimating our new guest here. We don’t know how much this brown blob thing affected him.”

“Considering the global mess it left behind, I don’t think I want to know,” scoffed the officer, “I’ll leave him to you for now. I want to catch President Kelly’s speech about this crazy affair in a few hours. The General said it should answer a few questions.”

“I’m sure it will…to a point,” said Captain Freeman ominously.

Jack let the MSA officer run off, leaving Toad completely in his care for now. It didn’t look as though he would cause him much trouble. Toad wasn’t trying to escape or even make a fool of himself. He was just sitting hunched in the center of his cell, clutching what was left of the brown glob he let overtake him. It was enough to leave any soldier deeply frustrated. The last thing they needed after one of Magneto’s stunts was another mentally unstable mutant.

Prison and sentencing couldn’t be further from the mind of Mortimer Toynbee. It didn’t even bother him that Captain Freeman was watching over him suspiciously. He could drag him by his tongue to the darkest prison cell in the world and that wouldn’t have bothered him. His entire world now revolved around this dead brown goo he had gathered in his hands.

“I know you’re still alive! I’m not letting you leave me like this! We were part of something! It doesn’t have to end! We can still evolve together! It doesn’t have to end like this!!”

Try as he might, there appeared to be no life in the brown goo. Toad remained on his knees, his hands trembling as he held what was left of this miraculous substance that made him more than just some mutant punk. This stuff meant something to him. It meant more than anyone could hope to understand.

Suddenly, he felt something from the shriveled shards of Cambrian in his hand. He could have sworn it just jiggled a bit. Toad took a closer look. It still lacked its former luster, looking like a lifeless hunk of pond scum. Then something amazing happened. The remnants of this creature started seeping into his amphibious skin. As it did, a sinister grin formed on the face of Mortimer Toynbee.

“Ah…I see now. This is not the end after all,” he said softly to himself, “Evolution can be delayed, but it can never be stopped. There will always be other chances. Only next time, it’s gonna be done right!”


White House – Later That Night

Confusion still reined supreme as the world struggled to process what happened. The reach of the Cambrian had been global. Its muddy shards had touched nearly every corner of the globe. Farmers in Siberia were clearing the remains of the creature from their fields just as businessmen in New York City were dusting similar remains off their cars. The skies had since cleared and the brown haze over Genosha had since faded. The destruction was purely superficial. Cities and infrastructure hadn’t been destroyed, just clogged. As the clean-up began and mass communication resumed, people everywhere sought answers.

Most of those answers came in the form a globally televised speech given by President Robert Kelly. He had the explanation people were looking for. That didn’t necessarily mean it was the explanation that told the full story.

“My fellow Americans and my fellow citizen of the world, I welcome you after what has been a very arduous day. I understand there are still many frightened people out there. I’m here to lay all those fears to rest. First off, let me start by saying that the crisis is over. There will be no further attacks by this anomaly. Authorities from all over the world including our own have confirmed that. Second and most importantly, this was not a direct attack. I understand there are rumors circulating about as to where this anomaly came from and who was behind it. I’m here to lay those rumors to rest.”

Sitting behind his desk, President Kelly prepared to give what he understood to be the truth from this catastrophe. Some people weren’t going to like it. Some were going to flat out reject it. That was their problem. This was the story that history would record.

“Earlier today the leader of Genosha, Magneto, conducted an unsanctioned biological experiment on a remote island in the Pacific. He utilized a rare organism known as the Cambrian to conduct a series of tests. One of these tests, however, went very wrong. The resulting experiment infected him with the Cambrian and drove him to unleash spores of this creature all over the world. All our research, which has been published on our government website, has verified that these spores only affected mutants. Their effect turned countless unwilling mutants into hosts for this creature. They were victims and not perpetrators, that we can be sure of. This creature was effectively destroyed thanks to a coordinated effort between our international naval task force off the cost of Genosha and through help from the X-men.”

The President let this information sink in for a moment. There were undoubtedly millions of people all over the world trying to take all of this in. Some of it seemed too outlandish to be true and it probably was. President Kelly kept that in mind as he continued with the more political aspects of this speech.

“So what happens now? How do we as a people respond to something that we had no control over? Rest assured, we have taken action. As of right now Magneto is incapacitated as a result of this accident and the leadership on Genosha has reverted to Wanda Maximoff. These unique circumstances have resulted in a breach of the treaty that has governed Genosha since the previous administration. As such, our forces from the naval blockade have moved in and re-occupied the country. There has been no armed resistance and the government of Genosha and we have every intention of keeping it that way. From here on out, our global military coalition will help the island rebuild and conduct a thorough investigation. All secret projects and resources will be uncovered. This mission will be one of peace, but make no mistake we will not tolerate mutant aggression. I will not tolerate blind conflict either. These mutants didn’t ask for this anymore than we did. So moving forward, this is what’s going to happen…”

With an explanation now out there for the public to consume, President Robert Kelly settled into his usual speech-giving mode. He began going over various specifics of the new Genosha operation. He remained poised and confident, giving the people of the world the leadership they needed right now.

In addition to the millions watching all over the world, numerous advisers and high ranking officials were in the Oval Office as he spoke. Most were there to give support. Others were there to hear the explanation for themselves. General Grimshaw was present and so were members of the President’s cabinet. Among this sea of political figures, his wife and children also watched closely. Sharon Kelly watched with pride while holding her daughter and mutant son close.

“So Daddy stopped the monster,” said her daughter who was leaning in close to her mother, “Does that make him a superhero, mommy?”

“Not exactly, sweetie,” said Sharon with a humored grin, “It just makes him a solid leader.”

“I don’t care if he’s a hero,” said her son that was harder hit than others since he was a mutant, “Daddy kept his promise. He kept me safe.”

“Of course he did. You’re still one of the most important parts of his life. Mutant or not, he loves you dearly and he’ll stay true to that love no matter what.”

The young boy smiled. He had his doubts before as he learned to deal with all the strange looks he got for his mutant appearance. Despite his father’s past hostility towards mutants, his love for him never waned. His daddy was already part of some very big things. He and plenty others felt that much safer with him staying true to his word.

Some, however, did not respect President Kelly’s leadership as much as everyone else. Also among the VIPs watching the speech was Reverend William Stryker. He was the only one who appeared solemn at the President’s reassuring words. He didn’t even bother staying to hear the whole thing. The reverend heard everything he needed to form his own conclusion.

‘Robert, you poor pathetic soul. God granted you the opportunity to destroy the wicked in one stroke. You could have simply launched those nukes, destroyed Genosha, and stopped this monstrosity just as easily. Yet you chose to spare the mutant menace. Now their collective sin is on your shoulders. I see now that I was wrong to trust that you would do the right thing. May God have mercy on your soul.’

Sighing distantly, Reverend Stryker slipped away from the crowd and out of the Oval Office. There was no further reason for him to be here. Robert Kelly may no longer be a soldier in his crusade, but that did not mean his struggle against the wicked would stop.

Once he was alone and in the clear, Reverend Stryker took out his cell phone and made a very important phone call. It was a call he expected to make, but one he wished he didn’t have to do in secret.

“I take it you heard, Reverend?”

“Indeed I have, Colonel Wraith. By now the whole world has heard. President Kelly has become an enabler of wickedness,” said Stryker bitterly.

“Don’t tell me you’re surprised.”

“Of course not. I’m merely disappointed. Our plans could have been much bolder by having the support of the President.”

“Well thankfully, it won’t be necessary. Not with what my people are working on overseas.”

“Yes, I certainly look forward to seeing the fruits of our labor,” said Reverend Stryker with an eager grin, “My only concern is keeping these affairs from prying eyes.”

“Don’t worry about that. Weapon X is now a private enterprise and completely off the books.”

“I’m all for free enterprise, but are you sure we can trust this Shaw fellow with this endeavor? Not to preach outside my congregation, but his spirit didn’t strike me as noble.”

“He’s a businessman, Reverend. Noble is very low on his list of virtues. Right below celibacy and humility. But so long as greed is his top priority, he’ll have all the necessary incentive to place the finishing touches on Weapon Plus. Once it’s complete, President Kelly will be kicking himself for what he passed up.”

“I look forward to that moment, Wraith,” said Stryker with an ominous grin, “I need to stay in Washington for a few more days. Then I’ll meet up with you and Mr. Shaw to discuss the next step.”

“Will you be bringing ‘you-know-what’ with you?”

“Of course, Colonel,” assured the Reverend, “I’m a man of God and a man of my word. Never doubt that in the struggle between good and evil.”


Westchester – Sefton Home

Illyana Rasputin couldn’t remember a time in her young life when she had been so proud. Watching TV and seeing footage of the X-men’s triumph over the Cambrian was nothing short of awe-inspiring. She had watched chaotic events involving mutants unfold before. She was a casual onlooker like everyone else during the Genosha uprising and the asteroid incident. This time she played a part in stopping this monstrosity. For a 15-year-old girl who spent much of her life on a Russian farm, it was quite a feeling.

“We did it, big brother! We did some good for once and this time it didn’t involve making deals with bad men like Arkady Rossovich,” she said as she gazed at the images on the TV.

“You’ve every reason to be proud of your brother, Illyana. But you should be more proud of yourself,” said the ominous voice of Shaman.

Illyana turned around to see the old Native American standing over her. He still came off as harsh, but he still came through for her. He helped her control her powers in a way all those so-called favors her brother worked to earn never could. That earned him some trust in Illyana’s eyes after coming from a world where she had little to spare.

“You’re a very unique girl, Miss Rasputin,” said Shaman as he knelt down next to her, “I thought Amanda was the crown jewel of mutant and magic synergy, but you’ve managed to subvert my interest. That is no easy feat.”

“I uh…thank you, Mr. Shaman. I am honored as you say for your help. I can’t tell you how hard it has been for me and my brother,” said Illyana.

“Power like yours are supposed to be hard,” Shaman went on, “You say your brother paid to have the best doctors and Russia examine you and they all failed to comprehend your full ability.”

“I would say they were more frightened than stumped. They knew I was a mutant. It was the magic that scared them. In Russia, magic is somewhat taboo.”

“It wouldn’t be the first place. But this isn’t Russia and I’m no ordinary doctor. Based on what you’ve shown me, I can see you have unique potential, Illyana. Like Amanda, your mutant powers are connected to some mystical forces, but for a very different reason. I only wish I knew what that reason entailed.”

Illyana was starting to get a little uncomfortable. She had seen to some extent how Amanda had struggled with her powers. If her abilities were something similar, then that may mean she was in for a similar struggle and she didn’t want that. She wanted a better life. That was all she and Piotr ever fought for since the death of their parents. It was hard to tell whether a life like that was possible anymore.

Shaman gently cupped Illyana’s chin. Her eyes flashed bright yellow again, hinting once again at the power that lay within. It intrigued him in a way few things had. For years he had been a wanderer, conducting his own mystical research. Helping the X-men always led to more interesting discoveries. Juggernaut had been quite a challenge and so had Amanda Sefton. It was these kinds of challenges that fueled the curiosity that was instilled in him by his grandfather.

“I understand that you and your brother are currently on the run,” he said, “Piotr took you to Genosha because he thought Magneto could help you with your powers, correct?”

“Um…da, that is why he helped him,” said Illyana, her voice somewhat bitter at the mention of Magneto, “Although the help we received in return was hardly appropriate.”

“Well he clearly isn’t going to find help on Genosha anymore. Perhaps I could grant you that help. Alongside Margali Sefton, we can teach you to use your mutant and mystical abilities to their full potential.”

“I…I appreciate your kind offer, but I am not sure I want to use these powers in such a way,” she said warily.

“Illyana, power like this cannot be ignored. It will find a way to come out just as it has done with Amanda. Fighting it is a pointless battle. The best anyone in your position can do is train and be ready to use these gifts when the time comes.”

“Time? What is this time are you talking about?”

“I can’t say because I don’t know. We’re all part of our own conflicts. We can’t run forever because we’ll only be hurting ourselves and the ones we care about. That is why we must be brave and confront these conflicts before they destroy us. Sometimes it requires us to make hard decisions when we’re not ready. But more often than not, those hard decisions are often the right ones.”

Illyana Rasputin thought about this for a moment. Her glowing eyes drifted back to the TV where she saw an image of her brother and the X-men assisting troops from the naval blockade onto Genosha. Piotr was helping them haul heavy supplies into the capital city. He looked so heroic in the way he walked proudly with the X-men. For once he was using his strength to serve someone other than bloodthirsty thugs or mutant tyrants. If he could make that decision then why couldn’t she?

For so long, her powers were a burden. They were so unpredictable. She knew it was because of the magic and the strain it caused her was often agonizing. Her goal used to be controlling her abilities so that her brother wouldn’t have to work for such terrible people anymore. After learning about these mystical forces from Shaman and the Seftons, those goals were changing. Looking back towards Shaman, her eyes stopped glowing and she smiled.

“I will need to discuss this with my brother,” said Illyana.

“Is that how teenagers say yes in this day and age?” said Shaman, still overly serious.

“We’re a family. We do these things together,” she told him, “Don’t worry. I’ll get him to come around. My brother may be as strong as a tractor, but he is no match for my puppy dog eyes!”

Shaman finally cracked a smile. Illyana was making the right decision. He looked forward to working with her. This potential in this girl was vast. It may end up being necessary as he continued to struggle with the darkness that threatened Amanda.

Across the room, Amanda and Margali watched as Shaman made his pitch to young Illyana. The young Russian was so innocent in some ways and so strong in others. It must run in the Rasputin family. If she was going to stick around, it would be nice to have the extra company. Amanda could certainly use all the friends she could get at this point.

“Looks like we’ll be putting that guest room to use soon,” said Margali.

“I’m sure you’ll enjoy having a teenage girl who isn’t all emo,” muttered Amanda.

“Oh don’t be like that, sweetie. You know you’ll always be my top concern,” she assured with a motherly hug.

“I know. I can’t help it if I’m more anxious than I should be.”

“Is it because of Kurt?”

“He did promise we would sit down and talk after this was over,” Amanda reminded her, “Well that big brown blob is gone. I’d say that counts as over.”

“And you’re not looking forward to it because it means making some hard decisions of your own,” Margali surmised.

Amanda Sefton rolled her eyes. It wasn’t fair that mothers were so perceptive.

“I guess it goes without saying. I’m not so much worried about my decisions as the ones Kurt will have to make.”

“He’s going to do what he thinks is right. That’s what he’s always done. He loves you enough to do it even when it may be the hardest decision he has to make,” said Margali.

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Amanda fell silent and hugged her knees. Margali was tempted to say more, but chose instead to embrace her wary daughter. The Cambrian may have been vanquished, but her daughter’s destiny was still set. The power within her was still of grave concern. As it continued to escalate, an even greater concern would be how many would get caught in the crossfire if they were unable to stop it.


Hong Kong – Aerie Global Corporate Suites

Like the rest of the world, Lilandra Neramani watched the events on Genosha unfold. She had been sitting in front of her TV watching all the news reports since the Cambrian shards stopped falling. During the whole affair, she held up in a secure apartment complex that was run by her family company. It was strong enough to keep the globs from reaching her and allowed her to wait out the worst of this disaster. She was not surprised when she heard how Charles Xavier and the X-men stopped this monstrosity. She was also not daunted with the prospect of her company having to work harder to stem the anti-mutant sentiment that was sure to follow. Her primary concerns were more personal.

‘Charles…why must you keep pushing yourself like this?’

Another round of tears formed in her eyes as she saw images of Charles Xavier being carried off for medical treatment by his X-men. It was clear he had pushed himself beyond his limits yet again. For a man dying of cancer, that was anything but good. She suspected he still hadn’t told his students. Otherwise they wouldn’t be looking so relieved. They would be just as worried as her, crying themselves to sleep at night at the prospect of losing this wonderful man.

It had consumed her life since she first learned of his condition. Lilandra started withdrawing herself, delegating more of Aerie’s day-to-day operations to trusted co-workers while she directed more energy into other personal endeavors. Aerie was such a huge company and they did have a pharmaceutical division. She started following new research on cancer treatments within her company. Some areas were promising, but none for the terminal cancer that afflicted Charles Xavier. It seemed increasingly likely that there was no hope for him.

Looking down at her coffee table, Lilandra picked up the latest reports from her medical division. The file wasn’t as thick as she hoped. It meant there really wasn’t much to work with. As she looked through it, all the results of recent research pointed to one dire conclusion.

‘Ninety million dollars…that’s how much of my company assets I’ve redirected to our cancer research department. Any more and accountants will force me to resign. Even that’s not enough to remove the word ‘terminal’ from your condition, Charles. At least I’m trying! All those billions and you’re just accepting it, putting ungodly strain on your own body to speed up the process no less!’

In a bitter outburst, Lilandra threw the file across the room and turned off the TV. She angrily hugged her shoulders as she started pacing about in the darkness of her apartment. It just wasn’t fair. Good men like Charles Xavier are condemned to die while monsters like Magneto lived well-beyond their years. She and her family spent decades trying to bring justice to the world with their technology and their company resources. It seemed there would never be justice for some.

“Why…why did I have to fall in love with you, Charles?” she said to herself as tears streamed down her face, “Why do you have to get sick and die on me? Why does everything right in this world require a miracle to happen?”

Lilandra sobbed and rubbed her eyes as she continued restlessly pacing. It had been a while since she had spoken to Charles. It was hard to share those same moments they once shared with the knowledge that he was going to die. She couldn’t avoid him forever. Somehow she had to get through this. She owed it to him and herself even if it was so heart-wrenching.

As Lilandra contemplated this daunting notion, her phone rang. She had left it on her coffee table and wasn’t in the mood to talk much anywhere. She was tempted to let her voice mail pick it up. When she saw the caller ID on her phone, however, her interest peaked and she answered with greater urgency.

“Mother? What are you doing calling at this…” Lilandra began, but her voice was quickly cut off by a frantic response on the other line.

She found herself having to sit back down. A hard knot was already forming in her stomach.

“Mom, slow down! You sound like you’re…what?! You’re not making any sense! What do you mean by…”

As her mother continued to speak, Lilandra’s expression grew more and more grim. Soon, her sobs were replaced with urgency. Her mother didn’t call her very often. When she did it was usually because something was very wrong.

“Okay…I see…no, I’ll be right there. Please try and calm down…yes, I understand…I love you too. I’ll see you soon.”

Next Issue: Disheartening Discord

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