In a world that hates and fears them, Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men fight for peace and understanding between humans and mutants. That same world often overwhelms them with new challenges. Lately, most of those challenges have been coming from Genosha, General Grimshaw, and the Mutant Security Agency. Now a new challenge has emerged from two powerful enemies.
In a recent clash in Downtown Westchester, Vertigo attacked the X-men under Sinister’s order. This activity was supplemented by the Black Queen, who has links to Sinister through Madelyn Pryor. When Wolverine discovered that the Black Queen assaulted a mutant on Genosha named Scanner, Professor Xavier sent the X-men to investigate. This decision may have come too late though.
While these conflicts were unfolding, Amanda Sefton’s continued to deteriorate. Already plagued by the curse of her family bloodline, she became consumed with horrible nightmares. Her mother attempted to help her with a ritual guided by the X-men’s old friend, Shaman. It did not work. Amanda’s condition worsened and now she is in a coma. In this vulnerable state, Selene and Madelyn launched a daring attack. Only their target wasn’t Amanda. This time the victim was Piotr Rasputin’s younger sister, Illyana.
“I SWEAR I’M GOING TO KILL THEM!” said a very angry Piotr Rasputin.
“Whoa, don’t go berserker rage on us big guy. That’s Logan’s job,” said Bobby, who was holding him back along with Kitty.
“We come hoping to be proactive as you say. We find out we’re still too late. Then I find out my sister has been abducted. You are expecting me not to be upset?!”
“Nobody is saying you shouldn’t be upset, Peter. We’re just saying that screaming at the top of your lungs isn’t helping,” said Kitty Pryde with a light scold.
The Russian mutant took deep breaths, trying in vain to calm himself. Less than ten minutes ago, they arrived at the Sefton’s house via the X-jet. The house was in ruin and Amanda Sefton was in a coma. Kurt was reeling while Remy and Rogue were still sore from Amanda’s rampage. Worst of all, Selene beat them to the punch and abducted Illyana for reasons they couldn’t begin to understand.
While Piotr fumed, the rest of the X-men desperately sought answers. The first priority was to tend to the injured. Aside from Amanda, Rogue and Remy endured their share of blows. Ororo and Betsy tended to them, offering pain killers and a few bandages. Betsy was still apprehensive about her ex, but she wasn’t bitter enough to stop caring.
“You look terrible, luv. But don’t expect to get any sympathy from Peter,” commented Betsy as she wrapped Remy’s right arm in bandages.
“That be the nicest thing an ex-girlfriend has ever said to Remy,” said the Cajun, groaning a bit when she tied the bandages too tight, “And besides, the big guy has every right to be upset.”
“I would certainly say so,” said Ororo as she tended to Rogue, “First, Amanda had another magic outburst of sorts. Then Selene showed up?”
“Yet somehow that crazy nutter wasn’t behind it?” added Betsy.
“That’s what she said before she took Illyana,” said Rogue bitterly.
“And you believe her?” scoffed the British mutant.
“Don’t go all bad cop on meh, Betsy. Ah don’t need your bullshit right now,” she retorted, her gaze shifting over to Kurt and Amanda, “We only know what she told us and she said she wasn’t behind Amanda’s little tantrum.”
“The saddest part is she may be telling the truth,” said Jean, who was in the middle of scanning Amanda’s mind with her telepathy.
“How can you tell, Jean?” asked Ororo.
“Keep in mind, I went toe-to-toe with that woman. I know the kind of mark she leaves. I would sense it if she did anything to Amanda and I’m not sensing anything.”
“So…Selene vas telling zhe truth for once,” said Kurt, who was holding Amanda in his arms.
“That seems to be the case. This strange energy residue is very different from my previous confrontation with Selene. It’s not like anything I’ve felt before and being a cosmic entity, I’ve felt a lot.”
This didn’t sound too promising, especially to Piotr. If the Phoenix Force was clueless, then they were in more trouble than they thought.
While Jean sought answers in Amanda’s mind, Scott and the Professor focused on Kurt, Shaman, and the Seftons. Scott had to help Shaman out from a pile of rubble. He was reeling like everyone else. Selene really had gotten the best of them. She clearly knew something that they didn’t.
“Thank you for arriving before I even had to call you, Professor,” said Shaman, still brushing the dirt off his clothes, “It’s a good thing you got a head start on this because we’re really behind the curve.”
“Save your gratitude until after we figure out just how far behind we are,” said the Professor, “I brought my X-men out here in full force in hopes of staying ahead of Selene. Now we’re behind and Selene has taken Peter’s sister.”
“When dealing with women like Selene, we should be grateful to be in the position we’re in. We’ve had nothing but problems here lately and now it’s starting to make sense.”
“Excuse me for being rude, Mr. Shaman. But how the hell does my sister being captured make sense of anything?” yelled Piotr.
“Easy there, Petey. Don’t make me ice your legs,” warned Bobby.
“Yeah, save that anger for Selene,” said Kitty.
It was difficult for Piotr to remain his usual strong self. When his sister was in danger, that tough poise he learned from the Russian Mob went out the window. Illyana was the only family he had left. The idea of her being in this cruel woman’s clutches was too much to bear.
His plight earned him plenty of empathy from Margali Sefton, who had been agonizing over her comatose daughter. Since so much of this mess was tied to her and her family, she was obligated to provide the answers that Piotr and the X-men so desperately sought.
“Don’t get mad at Shaman, Peter. If anyone should draw your wrath, it’s me,” she said.
“Is that real guilt talking or is there something you’re not telling us, Miss Sefton?” asked Scott.
“I already told you about Amanda’s ailment. The nightmares were what caused the destruction you see around you, not Selene. What I haven’t told you yet is the cause. It’s been the focus of all our mystical efforts lately. We didn’t get the answers we sought until Selene arrived.”
“Vait…you know vhat vas hurting Amanda?” said Kurt in bewilderment.
“Yes,” she said solemnly, “And I should’ve figured it out sooner. As always, being a mother tends to blind you from the obvious.”
Margali now had the attention of the whole team. Piotr calmed down enough for Bobby and Kitty to let go of him. Kurt looked up from Amanda to hear this as well. Rogue and Remy overcame their soreness so they could join Betsy and Ororo. Since this ordeal had already earned them a some major bruises, they were very interested in the explanation.
“Before Selene disappeared with Illyana, she mentioned a place called Mount Anton. I believe this is most where they’re heading as we speak. And as it just so happens, it’s a place I’m very familiar with.”
“Why is that? Where is this Mount Anton?” asked Professor Xavier intently.
“It’s where my family is from. It’s also where Amanda was born,” she said distantly.
This caught Kurt by surprise. It was another secret revealed that the Seftons had been keeping from him. It didn’t seem like much, but he could tell this place had a very special meaning for her.
“I see,” said the German mutant, “Is zhis another one of those details you saw fit to hide from me?”
“I’m sorry, Kurt. I know we keep disappointing you. I’m just trying to get this out in a way that won’t make me burst into tears,” she said through a strained tone, “It’s part of the curse the Sefton bloodline carries. Our family is tasked with guarding the key to a terrible power. If the bloodline stops, then the key is free for anyone to exploit. That’s why we work hard to pass it down from parent to child, thereby ensuring this power remains secure.”
“So where exactly does Mount Anton factor in?” asked Scott.
“This mountain is the key to passing down this burden. When I was pregnant with Amanda, I conducted a ritual near the mountain summit. It was the same ritual my mother experienced and her mother before that.”
“So it made Amanda the key to this power instead of you,” said Kitty dryly, “That’s some Old Testament style parenting, passing burdens to your children.”
“Kitty…” began Ororo with a scold.
“No…she has a valid point,” said Margali sadly, “It is selfish, me putting this curse on my daughter before she’s even born. It’s a terrible thing for any parent to do, but it’s a sacrifice our family has always made.”
“And you say this mountain is the key,” said the Professor, shifting the focus back to the matter at hand.
“Yes, but before you ask why, I should remind you that mystical matters are not always logical,” she went on, “For reasons we don’t fully understand, that mountain radiates a profound amount of mystical energy. It is one the few places on this planet where I could conduct this ritual. As a result, our spirits are essentially entwined with that mountain.”
“Define entwined,” said Jean warily, “I’m entwined to the Phoenix Force and James Cameron movies. How deep are we talking here?”
“Deep enough that when there’s a disturbance, we feel it,” Margali affirmed, “Something must have happened to that mountain…something Selene clearly knows more about than me. She must have uncovered something. That must be the interference that Amanda felt in her nightmares and it must be what fueled this recent outburst.”
“But what could she have found?” asked Professor Xavier, “What is powerful enough to cause such interference?”
“The list is short, Professor,” said Shaman, “I’ve only heard legends about that mountain. It’s not impossible. Very little is when dealing with magic.”
“So whatever is on that mountain, Selene seeks to exploit it. That’s why she abducted Illyana. That means we need to get to it before she does,” Betsy surmised with her detective skills.
“By need, as you call it, what are the chances it involves putting Illyana in greater danger?” asked Piotr.
“Vhen zhe Black Queen is involved, it’s a pretty safe bet, mien friend,” said Kurt grimly.
Piotr tensed angrily. Unlike many others in the X-men, he had not confronted Selene in a battle yet. Already, she was giving him many reasons to despise her. There was little question she had to be stopped.
“I’m guessing our next move won’t require much debate. We have to go after that thong-loving sorcerer bitch,” said Kitty strongly.
“Since Madelyn is probably with her, it could double as a rematch after our last little spat,” said Jean, always eager to go after her wayward cousin.
“We already know where she is. We just need to get to this Mount Anton before she does more damage than usual,” said Scott.
“Great! So we just punch that mountain into the X-jet’s GPS and we’re on our way,” said Bobby, “Or is it not that simple?”
“Would you be remotely surprised if I told you it wasn’t?” said Margali in a flat tone.
“No, but it never hurts to take a chance,” he shrugged, “One day it has to pan out. Law of averages, right?”
The others rolled their eyes at Bobby’s remark, but were equally unsurprised. If getting to Mount Anton was easy, then Margali and Shaman wouldn’t look so bleak. The Black Queen was never one to make it easy for her enemies and this was no exception.
“Whatever the complications, we must get moving and find our way to that mountain,” said Professor Xavier, “Margali, you can lead us there, can’t you?”
“Of course I can. I know the coordinates like anyone would know their homeland,” she said sadly, “However, there are some difficulties we’ll have to work around…significant difficulties that I can’t promise will pan out.”
“We’ll have to take that chance,” said Ororo, “Now if you want, some of us can stay behind and look over Amanda. It’s clear she’s in no state to travel.”
Margali looked over towards her comatose daughter. It pained her to see her like this and there was nothing she wanted more than to keep her out of this. However, once the X-men heard the full story, they would understand why Amanda had to come with them.
“No. She needs to come along too,” said Margali, “We are going home after all. There’s a lot about that home you’ll need to know if we’re to stand a chance against Selene.”
“You can tell us the full story on the way,” said Scott as he hit a button on his belt to summon the X-jet, “We’ll also have to relay the details to Wolverine. He’s already on his way back to the mansion in a transport orb.”
“If possible, I’d like to send him out ahead of us,” added Xavier, “The X-men need to be in full force for this.”
“So long as he leaves some of that suka left for me, by all means,” said Piotr firmly.
The X-men were getting ahead of themselves and Margali was getting increasingly anxious. This was all happening so fast. The X-jet was already hovering over them after having deactivated its invisibility cloak. It was sure to be a long flight, especially for her. Some of what she told the X-men was very personal. Much of it involved people she never thought she would deal with again.
“I understand. I promise I’ll do everything I can to help. I owe you all that much,” she said sadly.
“Try and sound a little more upbeat, Miss Sefton. Now that the X-men are here, we’ve got a fighting chance against Selene,” said Rogue confidently.
“I can only be so upbeat when it comes to visiting my homeland. After you hear what I have to say, you’ll know why I’m anxious about returning to the lost colony of Nova Roma.”
Sinister’s Lab – Hanger
Sinister had been cooped up in his lab for quite some time. He had to be in order to stay under the radar of all those who would disrupt his work. It was agonizing at times, being constrained to these sterile environments for weeks at a time. But he was used to it. Now he, Gabriel, and his Marauders were about to get a nice change of scenery.
His beloved, Selene, was setting everything up. He was ready to join her at Mount Anton. Even though he was a man of science, he was not averse to using magic to achieve his goals. Speaking to Selene over a secure communicator, he could tell this little endeavor would give them plenty to work with.
“I see…no, I’m not surprised. You did say Miss Sefton would be feeling the effects already…Indeed. I guess we both overestimated her. It will make the next step much easier…of course. I’m on my way as we speak. I have our newest Marauder joining us. Since the X-men are bound to get involved, it never hurts to have a few tricks at our disposal…oh you have such a dirty mind, Selene. We’ll meet you and Madelyn at the base of the mountain. I’ll see you soon, my love.”
Sinister turned off the communication link as he and Gabriel approached his supersonic stealth jet. The Marauders were already inside and waiting impatiently to depart.
“At last, you’re venturing out from your lab/cave,” joked Gabriel, “Madelyn and I were about to have an intervention.”
“You weren’t worried that I was spending too much time with my work, were you?” scoffed Sinister.
“Oh it’s not your work that had us worried. It was the constant boasting at how close you were to the next step as you call it. We actually kept a tab of how many times you said it and every time the only thing that changed was the date on the calendar.”
“Science is a gradual process, Gabriel. Progress often comes in increments,” said Sinister.
“Does that mean we can stop the count at 22?” grinned Gabriel.
“When you see what my beloved has prepared, you’ll take back every one of them,” he replied confidently, “These missions to collect mutant blood samples haven’t been for show. They are an integral part of my quest to unlock the secrets of mutation.”
“Didn’t you say the same thing about those samples you collected from Weapon X, Jean Grey, and my pest of a little brother?”
“What I gathered from them raised more questions than answers. However, they still pointed us in the right direction. That direction is now taking us to the city of Nova Roma, a place Selene and I have been hoping to revisit for some time.”
“So I’ve been told,” said Gabriel, “Any chance you’ll take some time to get at least some semblance of a tan while you’re there?”
“I would rather not waste time on my complexion,” he chuckled in response, “We’ll have much to keep us busy while we’re there.”
Gabriel grinned. It had been a while since he saw some action. All this lying low was agonizing for someone of his power. Given Selene’s history with Nova Roma and the inevitable involvement of the X-men, he could finally put his power to good use.
He and Sinister were just about to enter the jet when they were confronted by the unexpected presence of Mystique. She had been on the jet waiting as well and apparently it wasn’t just impatience that was affecting her mood.
“Where the hell have you been, Essex? I’ve been meaning to have a word with you,” said Mystique in her usual coarse tone.
“You and the rest of the Marauders,” he said dryly, “Relax, I’m not keeping you out of the loop.”
“It’s not this mission that has me concerned. It’s this new addition to your pack of degenerates. I don’t like him.”
“Why Raven, whatever do you mean?” said Sinister incredulously.
Before Mystique could yell at him any more, the side door to the hanger opened and the new addition she spoke of entered. This new presence caused her to tense. She looked ready to maul the first person that got in her way. It was distressing to her, but amusing to Sinister.
“Victor Creed,” greeted Sinister casually, acting oblivious to Mystique’s discomfort, “So glad you could join us, despite your fashionable tardiness.”
“I was busy with a beer and a playboy. Sue me,” snarled Sabretooth with a feral sneer.
“This being your first mission with us, you would be wise to show a little respect,” warned Gabriel.
“I would, wouldn’t I?” taunted the former living weapon, “Too bad you’re paying me for my claws and not my respect.”
“Funny, I was under the impression you were the one paying us. It was my generous uncle who pieced you back together after that beating you took in Canada,” reminded Gabriel.
“Before I broke out you mean,” added Sabretooth, “Say whatever you want, kid. You’re still paying me to be here. It ain’t money, but some perks you can’t put a price on.”
Sabretooth kept smiling as he walked past Sinister and Gabriel to enter the jet. Along the way he stopped by Mystique, who was still gazing at him with a look that could melt all the adamantium in Weapon X. Sabretooth’s grin only widened. He even made a snide kissy face to further enrage her. It was a game they played every time their paths crossed. He never gave a reason for it, as if he was saving it for a special occasion.
Gabriel remained annoyed while Sinister looked like he was trying hard not to laugh. He kept watching until Sabretooth disappeared into the jet, leaving Mystique standing in a burning rage.
“I don’t know why, but every time I look at that man I want to torture him a billion different ways,” she seethed, “I felt it when Magneto worked with him when I was in the Brotherhood. Now I feel it even more!”
“Why might that be? You two don’t have a history, do you?” said Sinister, sounding like he was teasing her.
Mystique’s fists clenched at his conniving tone. It was his way of saying he still had answers that she wanted. It infuriated her almost as much as Sabretooth because she kept having to respond in the same agonizing way.
“I don’t know,” she said coldly.
“As usual,” said Gabriel dryly.
“Shut up, Summers! You’re even more annoying than your brother,” spat Mystique, “I don’t care if you needed a replacement for Vertigo. That man is a disaster destined to happen.”
“You’re not going to leave because of Mr. Creed’s brutish presence, are you?” said Sinister in an annoyingly calm tone.
“Believe me, I want to. But I want what you know more than I want to maim Sabretooth,” she said bitterly.
“Of course you do. I can’t say what that implies about your already questionable character, but you’re good at your job and you’ve continued to deliver. That’s exactly why you won’t be coming with us on this mission.”
The shape shifter was taken aback by this.
“What? I thought you said this mission required all Marauders,” she said.
“I’m in a generous mood so I figure you’ve earned a bonus mission…one I think you’ll enjoy much more than any mission alongside, Mr. Creed,” said Sinister ominously.
Sinister retrieved a small flash drive from his pocket and casually tossed it to Mystique, who caught it despite her bewilderment by this sudden change in plan.
“The details are on that drive,” he said, “Feel free to use my secondary transport as you please.”
“Forgive me if I don’t thank you. I not assuming you’re doing this out of the kindness of that black hole you call a heart,” said Mystique dryly.
“Assume what you want. Either take the mission or don’t. It’s up to you, Raven. Although if I were in your position, I wouldn’t make light of this opportunity…especially if the answers you seek truly matter to you.”
Sinister left the shape shifter to ponder those cryptic words. He and Gabriel entered the jet to join Sabretooth and the rest of the Marauders. With the flash drive in hand, Mystique stepped back and let the hatch close behind her. Mystique remained bitter even as she watched the jet take off. She kept trying to scold Sinister, Sabretooth, and this entire operation she was part of. Looking down at the flash drive in her hand, she had the promise of getting a brief taste of the answers she so desperately sought.
‘You’re toying with me, Sinister. Between your scum of a nephew and hiring Sabretooth, you’re just looking for ways to piss me off. The sad part is I’m still compelled to see this through. I don’t know whether that’s pathetic on my part or just cruel on yours. I guess we’ll both find out soon enough.’
Nova Roma – 17 Years Ago
Margali Sefton bore many burdens. Being the keepers of a power so dark that it could destroy worlds put her family in a tragic position. She had so little room for error. One mistake could undo everything her family had worked for. Having just given birth to a beautiful baby girl, she was already setting a terrible example.
With her infant daughter in her arms, Margali Sefton was at the mercy of the Nova Roman senate. This land was the only home she ever knew. Her family had been sheltered here for generations. Now that tradition was on the verge of destruction and she had no one but herself to blame.
The man proceeding over this affair was Lucius Antonius Aquilla, a prominent senator with whom she had personal ties. Wearing a traditional Nova Roman toga, he stood before a few dozen of his fellow senators in a closed door session. She considered this man a good friend, which made this decision more difficult.
“Margali Sefton, this closed session of the Senate is brought to order,” said Lucius in an authoritative tone, clearly hiding the strain in his voice, “The matter at hand involves the most serious of crimes. You, a trusted ally of this institution, stand accused of high treason. You betrayed the Republic’s most sacred laws, compromised the security and secrecy of our city, and opened the door for a dark scourge to revisit our lands. How do you plead?”
Margali swallowed a lump of hard emotions. She looked down at her infant daughter, who was sleeping peacefully. She didn’t deserve what she was putting her through. She also didn’t deserve a mother who didn’t own up to her mistakes.
“I plead guilty,” she said flatly.
This answer surprised both Lucius and the rest of the Senate.
“I beg your pardon? Please say that again so we can get it on record,” said Lucius, taken aback by her statement.
“I admit to all the charges. I deny none of them.”
“You do have the right to contest and even justify these charges, you know? We’re fully prepared to consider your statement before adjudicating this matter fully.”
“The Senate has plenty of work ahead of them. For all the damage I’ve done, it would be an even greater crime if I hindered those efforts,” Margali stated, “I’m just saving us both the trouble. I confess. I’m guilty. Whatever sentence you pass down, I accept.”
Lucius was hurt by her words, even if he couldn’t show it before his fellow senators. The rest of his fellow senators were surprised as well, but were not burdened by such harsh emotions. It was easy for them to debate the appropriate course of action. Given such a clear confession, there wasn’t much to discuss.
After only a few minutes of whispers and murmurs among the senators, a legal aid walked up to Lucius and whispered the verdict into his ear. The decision was hardly surprising, but that didn’t make it any easier to hand down.
“Very well,” said Lucius, “The Senate has come to a decision. In accordance with the doctrine of our lands, you and your child are hereby exiled. You are to leave immediately and never return. Your wealth will be transferred to an outside account and your property will be seized by the State. Should you require transport to a neutral location, we will provide it to you.”
“That won’t be necessary. My travel will come at my own expense,” said Margali, “I owe the city that much.”
“I’m also obligated to remind you that while in exile, you are still bound to uphold the secret status of our land. Divulging any information about Nova Roma and its affairs will incur even harsher penalties.”
“I understand. I humbly accept these terms,” she said without hesitation.
That was the end of it. Margali Sefton’s fate had been handed to her, as was so often the case with her family. Even the senior members of the senate were surprised by how quickly this matter was resolved. Most were content to put it behind them, but Lucius Aquilla took no pleasure in this speedy resolution.
Even with the sentence handed down and the decision set in legal stone, this was a difficult end to reach. As a senator, Lucius’s job was done. As a trusted friend of this woman, it would be an even worse crime to leave it like this.
“Very well,” he said solemnly, “Before this senate adjudicates the sentence, I will make a personal statement for the record.”
“That’s really not necessary, Lucius,” said Margali, turning her focus back to her baby.
“No, Madame Sefton. It is,” the senator said strongly, “You and your family have been a treasured ally of Nova Roma for generations. Your spirit is without equal. While we can’t overlook your transgressions, we can acknowledge that this decision is not an easy one…especially for me. I recently became a parent as well. When I think about my daughter and all the love I have for her, I can honestly say I would’ve done the same…albeit without the mistakes. For that, I offer the sincerest of apologies on behalf of this senate. For me personally, I offer you the best of luck. May the gods watch over you as your family continues to shoulder this burden.”
Aboard X-jet – Present Time
Margali Sefton gazed out the windows as the X-jet passed over the easternmost reaches of the Amazon jungles. It had been a long time since she traveled to this part of the world. She was never supposed to see it again. Even if she wanted to, she was bound by her punishment. Returning to stop the Black Queen didn’t feel as noble as it should. If anything, it was a bitter reminder of how she had made her family burden much worse.
Since they departed from the ruins of her house in Westchester, Margali went over the many painful details of their destination and the history behind it. She told them about Nova Roma, Mount Anton, and her family history with this hidden land. She earned herself a lot of bewildered looks from the X-men. Even with their history, the story she told was pretty fantastic.
“So let me back up a bit so I’m sure my ears are in complete working order. Nova Roma is this lost colony of Ancient Rome…as in temples, chariots, and togas Ancient Rome,” said Bobby, who was struggling like everyone else to wrap his head around this, “Somehow a bunch of elites and their supporters fled the country, got blown off course at sea, and ended up in South America of all places a thousand years ago.”
“Two thousand years ago,” Margali corrected.
“Right, so they’ve basically been carrying on the whole Roman Republic deal even after the last emperor croaked,” Bobby continued, “And somehow, they managed to keep this hidden from the History Channel all these years by using a mix of magic, technology, and who knows what else.”
“There’s a lot that needed to be protected,” said Margali flatly, “When Julius Caesar came to power, he did not take kindly to those associated with the old order.”
“But still…South America?” said Kitty, who shared Bobby’s surprise, “That’s a long ways from Italy.”
“The journey was arduous to say the least. It wasn’t like they planned to settle in this remote part of the world. It was a long, drawn out series of circumstances, mishaps, and astronomical luck that led them to where Nova Roma is today.”
“It’s still quite remarkable. That we can all agree on,” said Professor Xavier, “A lost vestige of the Roman Republic, preserved after all these years.”
“I’m sure if Beast were here his fur would be standing up on end,” commented Jean.
The X-men were making a big deal of this revelation. Margali couldn’t blame them. It wasn’t every day they discovered a lost city that preserved a society and culture thought to be extinct. It added a new twist on an already bizarre set of circumstances.
“Getting back to your part in the story, you mentioned that your family played a part in Nova Roma’s founding,” said Scott, who was flying the jet from the cockpit.
“Yes, my ancestors were instrumental in the founding of Nova Roma. It happened during the last days of the Roman Republic. For a few centuries, my family was protected by the Roman army from those seeking the power we possessed. It wasn’t done out of charity. My family acted as the high priests to the prominent families of the aristocracy and the Roman Senate. Our mystical talents were vital in preserving their power.”
“But that power wasn’t enough, was it?” said Ororo.
“Not remotely,” sighed Margali, “Believe it not, even advanced magic isn’t effective against a military coup, corruption, political instability, and outside invasions.”
“Sounds kind of like where we are today,” said Betsy, “We’re surrounded by all these mutant abilities and it’s still not enough to buy some bloody stability.”
“Shows how our current problems aren’t as new as we think,” said Jean dryly.
“It’s a sad fact of power struggles. The growing influence of Julius Caesar was going to destroy the Republic. There was no way around it,” said Margali, “The Senate and their families were scared. So were thousands of ordinary Roman citizens still loyal to state.”
“So it was either face Bronze Age justice or take their chances out at sea,” said Betsy, “Guess that isn’t as outrageous as it could be.”
“It was a difficult decision, but that’s what the senate decided. Since they didn’t want my family’s mystical talents to fall under the reign of corrupt emperors, they took my ancestors along for the ride. With our skills and all the Roman knowledge they gathered from the archives, they set sail in what was left of the Republic’s navy. By the time they made it to South America, they were grateful to be free from the chaos. There were only a few thousand of us left, but all were eager to start a new life free from the conflict.”
“So for 2000 years, they carried on the legacy of the Roman Republic,” said Professor Xavier, sounding more amazed than bewildered, “The culture, traditions, and knowledge were brought with them, thus safeguarding them from the destruction of the imperial era.”
“I suppose they did get the last laugh. The Roman Empire fell while Nova Roma endured. But for a time, it didn’t seem as though Nova Roma would last more than a few decades. This is where Selene’s family enters the picture.”
The mood aboard the X-jet shifted. Piotr especially tensed upon hearing this name. This was the woman who abducted his sister and he had yet to get an explanation. He needed answers so he knew how much he was going to have to bludgeon this woman in order to save Illyana.
“How bad were their crimes?” asked Piotr intently, “Based on what I’ve been told about Selene, I imagine her family has a bloody legacy.”
“That’s one way of putting it, but I’m afraid this is where the story becomes even more outlandish,” said Margali distantly.
“As if a hidden city in the Amazon isn’t outlandish enough?” commented Kitty.
“Believe it or not, Selene’s ancestors were allies of the Republic. Like my family, the Gallios were skilled mystics. This was before they got caught up in my family’s affairs so we weren’t even enemies at the time. It was more a friendly rivalry.”
“Friendly and Selene? Can’t say those two words go together,” said Jean.
“Keep in mind, these were her ancestors. But the Gallios had a lot less subtlety. By that I mean they weren’t afraid to flaunt their skills for personal gain. They used their magic to guide the ships through the Amazon and helped establish a colony on an area so remote that no foreign conquer or barbarian raids would ever threaten it. She had the M’krann crystal at the time and she used a vast array of spells to reshape the lands around a very specific mountain that had high levels of mystical energy.”
“I assume the mountain in question is Mount Anton,” surmised the Professor.
“You assume correctly, Professor,” said Margali, “Whatever power was in that mountain, it allowed Selene’s ancestors to turn an unremarkable patch of land into a lush plain. Her efforts allowed the settles to re-establish the Roman Republic, extract the necessary resources to build temples and homes, and carve out a sustainable existence. The knowledge and technology taken from Rome helped as well. They even managed to construct a new aqueduct from a nearby lake, allowing the city to feel just like the home they left behind. Within a decade or so, the Nova Roma took shape and a stable society began to emerge.”
“I’m guessing Selene’s ancestors weren’t satisfied though. There had to be a caveat of sorts,” said Ororo.
“With Selene’s family, there always is,” affirmed Margali, “Eventually, she showed her true colors. She tried to set herself up as ruler of Nova Roma. She planned to kill the Senate, sacrifice them to Mount Anton, and set up her own little kingdom from where she hoped to continue her quest for this destiny of hers. When my ancestors caught wind of it, we acted swiftly. My distant grandmother confronted and defeated Selene’s distant grandmother, thus banishing her from Nova Roma along with her descendants.”
Margali spoke with a touch of pride when she recounted the exploits of her ancestors. Defeating Selene’s family sounded like quite an accomplishment. However, that pride was tampered and not just because Selene got the better of them generations later.
“Sounds like a classic happily-ever-after ending,” said Bobby, “Or did it have one of those Godfather 3 style sequels that ruined it?”
“For a while it was a happy ending,” she continued, “Selene’s family stayed banished for centuries. Nobody knows what happened to her or what she or her descendants did. Nobody cared either. With her gone, Nova Roma could thrive on its own. For hundreds of years, the city prospered. It remained isolated, but it did on occasion welcome natives from the surrounding area to become citizens, intermarry, and start families. Even into the 20th century, Nova Roma remained secure.”
“But how the bloody hell did it stay so secret? I imagine a colony of the Roman Republic would turn a few heads, especially in South America,” asked Betsy.
“Nova Roma didn’t remain hidden as much as it maintained a very low profile. The city made deals with the governments that came and went to keep its autonomy. The natural barriers of the landscape sheltered it from scrutiny. Most importantly, the magic from Mount Anton allowed my family and generations of mystics to employ powerful shields. The same power that Selene’s ancestors tried to usurp helped Nova Roma thrive while also allowing it to avoid detection from explorers, invaders, and modern satellites.”
“So we probably won’t find it on Google maps,” commented Scott from the cockpit, “According to the X-jet’s GPS, there’s nothing but jungle and mountains at the coordinates you sent us.”
“That should give you an idea of the power Mount Anton possesses,” said Margali ominously, “While my family didn’t stay in Nova Roma for the entire 2000 years it prospered, we did always think of it as home. It also helped that we were among the few mystics skilled enough to tap the mountain’s power. That was of great importance to the city and they made it a serious crime to compromise that power.”
“Is that where this story turns into a Greek tragedy?” asked Bobby, “Or Roman would be more appropriate I guess.”
“Quit trying to make jokes out of this, Bobby,” said Jean.
“Sorry, but you have to admit this whole Nova Roma thing offers plenty to work with,” he shrugged.
Margali didn’t crack a smile. Having a comatose daughter and returning from exile was no laughing matter. Both conflicts were tied to the past and the legacy her family carried. It was a legacy she did so much to taint. It was part of the personal transgressions that she could not blame on her heritage.
“I’m not sure tragedy would be the right word here. Arrogance and foolishness would be far more appropriate,” said Margali, “I was born in Nova Roma. I spent most of my life there, not having to worry about the problems that would later plague Amanda. I rarely had to struggle beyond the ever-present caution that our curse brought to us. I wanted to minimize the burden of that curse for Amanda as well. So when there was a rumor that a Gallio descendant, Selene, was trying to pick up where her ancestors left off, I tried to stop her.”
“I can’t say I blame you. With a woman like that, you can’t take too many chances,” said Ororo.
“I may be the exception to that rule, unfortunately. In my effort to thwart Selene, I sealed my fate and that of Amanda’s. It is my fault and mine alone that she’s had to live most of her life on the run.”
“What happened? Did Selene get the better of you?” asked Jean.
“I’d rather say I overestimated my abilities,” said Margali bitterly, “I heard Selene was trying to sneak into Nova Roma through a special path in the Amazon River. So I defied the orders of the senate along every other mystic in the city and went after her. I didn’t just plan to neutralize her. I was going to kill her.”
“Bloody hell…that’s pretty extreme, even for a mother’s love,” said Betsy.
“I was afraid and brash…two qualities I would unfortunately pass down to Amanda,” she sighed, “I should have had something resembling a plan, but I didn’t. I confronted her in Brasilia where she made it look as though I beat her. She made me believe I could return to Nova Roma in triumph. I’d rather not go into details, but let’s just say I led Selene exactly where she wanted to go.”
“I’m sure the Senate didn’t appreciate that. It would be like us letting Magneto waltz into the White House,” said Kitty.
“It was worse than anyone could have imagined. Selene almost destroyed the whole city. Now that she had the backing of the Inner Circle, she had a lot more firepower. It was a chaotic battle. A lot of people died. Many parts of Nova Roma were decimated. But Selene was eventually defeated.”
“I assume there was a high cost to that defeat,” said Xavier.
“There had to be, Charles. This wasn’t an instance of needing a scapegoat. I was directly responsible for what happened,” said Margali sadly, “For my part in compromising the safety of Nova Roma, my punishment was harsh. Were I any other Nova Roman citizen, I probably would have been put to death. But because of my unique circumstances and my family’s relationship with the Senate, I was sentenced to permanent exile. Thus began the dangerous nomadic life I lived with Amanda. She’s never even saw the city she was born in. And because of her current state, she may never get a chance.”
Margali Sefton’s stoic demeanor gave way to sorrow as she was forced to turn away from the X-men and hide her tears. Looking towards the back of the jet where Amanda was resting in the medical area, she cursed herself for being so arrogant. She could have made her daughter’s burden so much easier if they had been allowed to live on Nova Roma. Instead, she knew only hardship. As a mother, that was a tremendous failure on her part.
Professor Xavier, who was sitting next to her, offered a comforting gesture as she sobbed. She bore a lot of guilt. He could hardly blame her for her actions. She was a parent who tried to do what was best for her child. This was a world she thought she had left behind and now here she was caught up in a conflict where both the past and present were poised to clash once more.
“It’s all my fault!” she sobbed, “All this hardship…all this suffering…I only made it worse!”
“You did what any decent parent would do. You tried to protect your daughter,” consoled Xavier.
“That doesn’t excuse the mistakes I made!”
“Even if it doesn’t, you have a chance to make up for it now,” he reminded her, “As we speak, Selene is preparing something that could end up being much worse than her previous incursion into Nova Roma. But unlike last time, you have the X-men on your side. We’ve faced Selene before. We’re prepared to confront her again.”
“Yeah, you’re not the only one with an axe to grind,” said Jean, flashing her Phoenix powers to reinforce her point.
“You’re not the only one with family as an incentive either,” said Piotr, “We can help you lessen your burden if you help us shoulder ours.”
“That’s assuming I won’t mess it up yet again. I can guarantee the Nova Roman authorities won’t be too happy to see me, let alone allow outsiders like the X-men to enter their city.”
“Lucky for you, we’re used to lukewarm receptions,” said Bobby, “Short of throwing us to the lions, there isn’t much they can give us that we’re not prepared for.”
“And we don’t intend to turn our backs on you,” said Xavier, trying to impart some confidence on the distraught woman, “You say you underestimated Selene the first time you faced her. Don’t make that same mistake by overestimating your worth with us.”
Margali wiped more tears from her eyes, but tried to show more strength in the face of such a heart-wrenching challenge. Professor Xavier and his X-men offered her their support. They were taking considerable risks, venturing into Nova Roma and confronting Selene. The least she could do was match their bravery.
She offered Professor Xavier a light smile. It was the first gesture of hope she had shown since this affair began. She had a chance to make up for her past mistakes. She had to be strong enough not to squander it. More than just her pride was at stake here.
While Margali received comfort from the X-men, there was still plenty of concern for Amanda. In the back where the medical equipment was set up, she was being monitored closely by Shaman. Kurt, Rogue, and Remy were with her as well. They listened to the details surrounding Nova Roma and the Sefton’s history with it from afar. It didn’t interest them as much as it did the others. They had more personal issues on their mind.
“Do you zhink she can still hear us?” wondered Kurt, “Is any part of her aware of what’s happening?”
“It’s possible, but unlikely,” said Shaman, “Mystical comas are notoriously deep. They’re also notoriously unpredictable. Given Amanda’s potential, there could be any number of unusual manifestations.”
“How unusual? Vill zhey hurt her?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” said Shaman in a low tone, “This mystery surrounding the Sefton bloodline has tested the limits of my knowledge. Now we’re on a trip to a lost city that was literally built on magic. I honestly don’t know what to expect.”
“You in good company, homme,” said Remy, “This gonna be a learning experience for all of us.”
“Makes meh wish Ah paid more attention in history class,” muttered Rogue, “Is it wrong of meh to be less concerned about stopping Selene and more concerned about where this mess with Amanda’s bloodline will end?”
“If you’re wrong, zhen so am I,” said Kurt, “Vhatever Selene is planning vith Illyana, she made it clear zhat it is just another step. It doesn’t seem to matter if we stop her or not because she’ll just find another vay.”
“Now you be talkin’ crazy. Stoppin’ that crazy woman and her voodoo always matters,” said the Cajun.
“Does it, Remy? She always drones on about destiny being unavoidable. I’m starting to think she might be right,” Rogue retorted.
Remy couldn’t blame Kurt for feeling that way because of what was happening to his girl. Rogue, however, surprised him. She was a rebel. It was in her name. Looking at her now, she was so upset about what was happening that she didn’t look like much of a rogue. He hesitated to console her. Shaman, never one for consolation, offered his own take.
“You’re both jaded from our repeated failures. For that, no one can blame you,” he said, “But now is not the time for weakness. This new development with Mount Anton could be an opportunity disgusted as a crisis.”
“You might as well be trying to smear mud on a pig and call it makeup, Shaman. You really expect any good to come out of some plot by Selene?” scoffed Rogue.
“I never said she would bring any good. If nothing else, she may bring answers,” he explained, “The Sefton bloodline has strong roots in this Nova Roma we’re about to visit. Perhaps there are resources there that we did not have access to in Westchester…resources that may prove useful in treating Amanda.”
“I’m not sure about zhat, Shaman,” said Kurt skeptically, “My father once told me about Nova Roma. Granted, he didn’t say much, but he did mention how difficult it vas to get anything useful out of zhat city. Zhey’re not as interested in learning about magic as zhey are in exploiting it.”
“In that case we’ll have to bank on them exploiting it in just the right ways.”
“That’s assuming they even gonna welcome us, homme,” scoffed Remy.
It sounded like Shaman was placing a lot of confidence in Nova Roma. Rogue, Kurt, and Remy would believe it when they saw it. One of them would be proven right soon enough. They were supposed to be in Nova Roman airspace within the hour.
The debate over this island seemed likely to continue the entire way. Nobody knew what to expect from a city that had been hidden in the jungle for over 2,000 years. Then without warning, the X-jet was hit with a severe round of turbulence.
“Whoa! What the hell, Cyclops?” exclaimed Rogue from the back, trying to hold Amanda in place with Kurt.
“That wasn’t me!” said Scott from the cockpit, “Something just hit us.”
“Something be a pretty broad word, Summers. Care to be a bit more specific?” said Remy.
“I would if I could. Right now something is all I’ve got,” said the X-leader.
More turbulence shook the jet. It was like a giant hand was reaching up and trying to pull them down. It forced much of the team to tighten their restraints and hold on for a much bumpier ride. As they did, Jean Grey’s eyes flashed with the Phoenix Force. Shaman and Margali’s eyes started glowing as well, their mystical talents reacting to this new threat.
“I…I feel something. Some kind of power is being projected towards us.”
“Yes, I feel it too,” said Shaman, “It’s definitely mystical in nature.”
“Well could you make it less mystical by chance?” said Bobby, “This jet runs on physics, not magic!”
Shaman didn’t seem to have the answers and neither did the Phoenix Force. The only one who didn’t look surprised was Margali Sefton.
“Margali…do you know anything about this?” Professor Xavier demanded.
“Yes,” she said flatly, “Nova Roma knows we’re here.”
“That’s impossible!” said Scott, “This jet has every kind of stealth technology there is.”
“I doubt that stealth extends to magic,” said Margali, “Please, do not try to fight it. They’re not going to shoot us down. They’ll most likely question us and I’ll end up having to soothe them over.”
“All the while, Selene is likely moving forward with her plan?” exclaimed Piotr.
“Calm down, Peter. This doesn’t appear to be something we can avoid,” said Xavier in a calmer tone, “Let’s not make this more difficult and try to reason with the Nova Roman authorities.”
“We do not have time! What about my sister?” argued the Russian.
“I’ll send an emergency signal to Wolverine’s transport sphere. I’ll instruct him to move in ahead of us and scout around Mount Anton. Since the Nova Romans are preoccupied with us, that should give him a window to enter.”
“I doubt he’ll be enough to stop Selene on his own,” said Ororo, showing concern for her former lover.
“He doesn’t have to. He only needs to buy us some time,” reasoned the Professor.
“Yeah, because if there’s one thing Wolverine is good at, it’s messing up someone’s carefully laid out plan,” said Scott as he adjusted the avionics for the rough decent.
“We can only hope,” said Margali, “Right now, we may have an even bigger challeng ahead of us.”
The X-jet continued to stammer through the air, descending through a thick layer of clouds that was covering a nearby mountain range. This seemed to be part of the shroud that kept Nova Roma protected. The X-men began sharing Margali’s reservations about this place. There was no telling what they would encounter or what kind of danger Selene was conjuring.
Nova Roma – Base of Mount Anton
It had been a long time since Selene Gallio stood within the borders of Nova Roma. Being here brought about many mixed feelings in the otherwise cold and bitter woman. She remembered the stories her mother told her about how the Gallios once ruled over this city. She remembered how she tried to take back that legacy for her family years ago. Gazing up at the mountain, the Black Queen had many reasons to be excited and many more to be wary.
“You almost look nervous, Mistress,” commented Madelyn.
“Don’t be stupid, my apprentice. I’m above feelings of such weakness,” she said flatly, “Although I admit I am conflicted. My family was banished from this land ages ago and there are likely some very powerful spells in place to keep me out.”
“They must not be too powerful. You are here after all,” shrugged her pupil.
“True, but only because of the mutant teleportation powers our generous guest wields. There are still no guarantees that those spells won’t be an issue.”
“Then we’ll just have to work faster and hope Miss Rasputin here is as useful as we need her to be.”
Madelyn taunted their unwitting guest as they gazed up at the mountain. Illyana Rasputin was bound and gagged the moment they arrived. Her goblin minions kept her restrained while she cast a spell that tied her hands and feet together with mystical restraints. These restraints were special in that they kept her from using her powers to escape. However, this girl still proved to be somewhat a nuisance. She kept cursing at them in Russian and warned them about how her brother was going to beat them to an unrecognizable pulp. That prompted Selene to cast a spell that gagged her so she couldn’t talk, leaving her completely at their mercy.
While they surveyed the base of the mountain, they eventually met up with Sinister and the Marauders. They landed moments ago in a jet armed with the supplies she requested. They were already in the process of unpacking. Gabriel led Exodus, Sabretooth, Arclight, Blockbuster, Harpoon, and Riptide through the step-by-step procedures laid out by Sinister. Even though this mission involved magic, there were some important experiments that needed to be done during this endeavor.
“Selene, my beloved. You look divine under the hot tropical sun,” said Sinister as he approached the Black Queen with some equipment in hand.
“Flattery won’t make this process go any quicker. Although it would be a lot more pleasant if it did,” said Selene coyly, “I trust my cloaking spell allowed your jet to make it through undetected.”
“It was as smooth a ride as one could hope for, although Sabretooth did his best to keep things from getting too pleasant,” he sighed, “He refused to pay attention while I briefed my Marauders on the procedures.”
“I still prefer him to Mystique. I’ve too many inclinations to torture that woman and I would rather not be tempted at a time like this.”
“Heavens knows we don’t need that. Which is why I made sure distractions would be at a minimum,” he told her affectionately, “I’ve already pre-assembled the amplifiers you requested. I also brought a cache of your favorite tools.”
“You’re such gentleman, Nathan. And what of those blood samples I procured for you?”
“I’ve already extracted the genetic material. I also took the liberty of mixing it just as you requested.”
To his lover’s chagrin, he pulled out a moderately sized container of blood that was specially decorated as if it were a present. Selene smiled at such a gesture. This container had in it the samples they had been collecting from various mutants, including some of the X-men. It was key to making this plan work.
The blood served more than one purpose. Sinister got what he wanted out of it and had plans of his own to utilize it. But for the moment, this was Selene’s moment of triumph.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” commented Sinister, “The blood of our kind and the key to our future. A perfect melding of magic and science, if ever there was one.”
“Perfect indeed,” said Selene as she gazed at the container ominously, “Blood has always been the key to this sacred site. It was the key my ancestors used to forge this land for those ungrateful Nova Romans. It’s only fitting that I need blood of a very special variety to succeed where my ancestors failed.”
“Funny, I thought you said your ancestors used a lot more blood than that,” said Madelyn dryly.
“Don’t make light of what you don’t fully understand, my apprentice. You may find ignorance to be anything but blissful,” she said in an embittered tone, “My ancestors found this out the hard way. They understood the magic contained in this mountain. They just didn’t understand it well enough to fully tap it. That’s why my distant grandmother had the Nova Roman army abduct hoards of natives centuries ago. She needed their blood to conduct rituals that channeled the energy from this mountain and turn it into the lush domain it is now.”
“Would I be put off if the number of humans sacrificed was exceedingly high during these rituals?” asked Sinister.
“Compared to some of your experiments, you would probably call them underachievers,” joked Selene, “I admit, it was messy. That didn’t make it any less effective. Nova Roma could not have existed without this magic. While those mindless Romans were content with abundance and security, my family had a bigger goal in mind. They wanted to channel the true source of the mountain’s power.”
“And should we retrieve that source, will it be able to do what I need it to do for the final leg of my experiments?” asked Sinister.
“That and so much more!” assured Selene, “Mount Anton was built on blood. Named after a son of Hercules, the Nova Roman’s saw it as another gateway to Mount Olympus. Their foolish myths and folk tales were insults to the true power that resided within. They never knew just how much this mountain affected their lives and it wasn’t just because of what my ancestors did.”
“Is that another case of ignorance being anything but blissful, Mistress?” said Madelyn.
“We’ll find out after we take the power from this mountain that they’ve taken for granted,” said Selene, “That’s where our little guest comes in yet again.”
Selene’s gaze fell upon Illyana Rasputin again. The young Russian girl was still struggling with the mystical restraints. She continued to violently curse the devious woman looming over her, but her words were muffled by the gag. Undaunted by her outbursts, Selene knelt down and grasped her face in a menacing grip.
“In addition to blood, all great rituals require a medium. Miss Rasputin here has the advantage (or disadvantage) of having a mutant ability that doubles as a mystical conduit. Her powers don’t just grant her more potential than the average teenager. It provides us with the missing piece that my ancestors never figured out.”
“In their defense you had 2,000 years of scientific progress to your advantage. You also had my genius at your disposal,” said Sinister.
“Don’t think I’m making light of your contributions, my darling,” grinned Selene, “You did make that convenient discovery that mutant blood reacted stronger to the energy than normal blood. That little test I ran with Scanner when I attacked her on Genosha proved quite telling.”
“And the results from these new tests should be even more useful. It should also allow us to…”
Sinister’s words trailed off unexpectedly. His expression shifted and he shifted his gaze suspiciously towards the sky.
“What is it, Uncle?” asked Madelyn.
“Is that a new trick you’ve acquired?” asked Selene.
“A little something I integrated into my body from Scanner’s blood,” said Sinister, “I just sensed a particular mutant signature drawing uncomfortably close.”
“Could the X-men be here already? I thought you said Nova Roma would slow them down,” said Madelyn.
“I don’t doubt the X-men are on their way, but they’re not here in full force just yet,” Sinister clarified, “No, they sent someone ahead of them…someone they felt could disrupt our progress should Nova Roma be an issue.”
“If there’s only one of them, why is that a problem?” scoffed Selene.
“We would be wise not to underestimate this one, my darling. It happens to be a mutant who has disrupted my work numerous times before…Wolverine.”
Back towards the jet, Sabretooth’s ears perked up. The mere mention of Wolverine was enough to stir his predatory rage. He still remembered how he left him impaled against a tree back in Canada. He was itching to return the favor and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
The feral mutant quickly forgot about his orders to aid the Marauders and dropped his end of a heavy crate he was hauling with Riptide.
“Hey! What gives?” Riptide complained.
“Hit the gym, pipsqueak! I gotta score to settle,” snarled Sabretooth.
Sinister grinned as he saw the menacing figure approach. He didn’t even need to give details about what he sensed. He could already tell what Sabretooth wanted.
“I hope I don’t need to tell you what I expect from you, Mr. Creed,” said Sinister.
“Spare me the grunt work. You ain’t keeping me from that runt,” he seethed.
“I don’t intend to. This is exactly why I enlisted your services. Sooner or later, Weapon X was going to catch up to me again…in more ways than one.”
“You’re boring me with details, Essex. Tell me where the hell he is so I can tear him apart!”
“Very well,” Sinister sighed, “If you’re that eager, he’s in a small transport heading in from the east. If Scanner’s powers are as accurate as they’re supposed to be, he should have landed moments ago and is staying concealed in the jungle about four and half kilometers from our position. Before you go after him, I would advise that…”
Sabretooth didn’t wait for him to finish. He had a direction and a distance. That was all he needed to find Logan’s trail. With a menacing snarl, he sprinted off into the trees in search of his nemesis. The animal within took over. He was now the hunter stalking his prey. Here in the jungles of South America, the setting couldn’t have been more fitting.
Sinister was hardly surprised by Sabretooth’s impatience. Madelyn and Selene rolled their eyes, not caring for that man’s attitude either way. Gabriel also saw Sabretooth run off and shared his uncle’s sentiment.
“You weren’t really going to advise him on anything, were you?” said Gabriel.
“Even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered. Victor Creed lost his humanity long ago. He’s more animal than man. And like any pet, you have to know how to tame him.”
“I don’t care what tricks you use. He better keep that annoying rodent out of our hair,” said Selene as she clutched the container of blood, “I cannot afford any interruptions at this critical stage. We must begin the ritual immediately. We may never get a better chance to extract the Blood Stones of Set!”
District X – North Port B
‘I hope I’m not missing anything important back at the mansion. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of explaining to do upon my return.’
Hank McCoy wasn’t used to going on solo missions. He was not Logan. It genuinely bothered him when he kept his friends out of the loop. It hadn’t stopped feeling awkward since he slipped out from his lab earlier this morning and rode off in his car for an impromptu visit to District X. He did not bring his X-men uniform or his communicator with him. He only brought his cell phone, which he checked regularly to make sure nothing was amiss.
Having arrived in District X, he checked his phone one last time. There were a number of text messages from the Professor, Scott, and Ororo. There were too many to go over and he had been instructed to turn his phone off the moment he reached his destination. If one of these messages was vital, he would craft an elaborate apology later. For now, he was on his own mission.
There were already ominous signs that this would not go well. As soon as he entered the city, a round of storm clouds came rolling in. The city was covered in a gloomy overcast and rain was starting to fall. Hank wore his assortment of normal street clothes that were custom made for his frame. He also brought an umbrella so he could stay dry while he waited. He stood at the end of a vacant part of the dock. This is where many of the assorted goods District X imported were shipped in. It was also where he was told that this mission of his would begin.
“Hank McCoy, right on time as expected,” came a familiar voice from behind him.
Hank turned around to see his somewhat overdressed girlfriend, Sage.
“Hello, my dear,” he said to her, “I would greet you with our normal affectionate exchange, but I’m a bit concerned about the nature of this meeting.”
“Don’t apologize. I know these are not the most romantic of circumstances. I didn’t leave District X in the hands of Bishop and my computers for a casual getaway.”
“I didn’t leave Charles and the X-men behind without so much as an email for menial reasons either,” he retorted, “So if you don’t mind, I would like to know why we’re meeting out here in such dreary and secretive circumstances?”
Sage cautiously approached her lover. She had never asked him to do anything like this before. It was a significant test for their relationship, but one with pragmatic applications as well. They were not in uniforms or in anything conspicuous. She was wearing a trench coat, sunglasses, and a baseball cap. She had with her a small briefcase as well, the contents of which were the reason for this meeting.
“As I’m sure you recall, I have been forwarding you some advanced research that I’ve come across recently,” she said.
“By come across I assume you mean hacked,” surmised Hank.
“You know what I do on my downtime, Hank. Breaking into the Facebook mainframe or hacking the Pentagon just isn’t challenging enough for me,” she retorted, “Well remember when I said it was research being done by a number of government agencies? That was a lie.”
“You lied to me?” said Hank, not hiding his distaste for such a revelation, “Sage, you know my scrupulous history with lies and why I’m averse to them.”
“You’ve made it clear to me many times before, Hank. And I’m sorry,” she said strongly, “However, there was a good reason for it.”
To help make her point, she opened the briefcase. Inside there were a series of folders, each with labels like “SECRET” and “DO NOT COPY” stamped on them. In addition, there was a mysterious vial containing a silvery substance. When Hank saw this, his feelings towards Sage’s lie quickly faded.
“Is this what I think it is?” he asked.
“If you remember those papers on neuro-mechanical mutagenic interface as thoroughly as I hope, you already know the answer to that question,” she said.
“Now I’m even more distressed. The complexity and scale of this research doesn’t seem possible without the deep pockets of the government behind it.”
“The true source is much more disturbing, I’m afraid.”
“More disturbing than the government? I find that difficult to believe,” said Hank.
“How about Graydon Creed? Is it so difficult now?”
Hank shuttered upon hearing that name. Looking at the vial and the papers, this revelation took on a far more insidious nature. With Graydon Creed having recently escaped from prison, there were many reasons to be disturbed by this revelation. His curiosity now peaked, he was ready to take this matter more seriously.
“I stand corrected,” he said grimly, “Tell me everything you uncovered. Now that Creed is missing, this research is a grave threat!”
“My knowledge of this is not much better than yours,” said Sage, upon closing the briefcase, “That’s why I asked to join me on this investigation. I chose not to alert District X or the X-men because some details of this matter are of a very personal nature.”
“Personal how? Sage, if you’ve been keeping more secrets from me, now would be a good time to come clean,” said Hank more intently.
“I will. I promise I’ll tell you everything,” she said in a more sincere tone, “I have a rented car parked around the corner. We’ll use it to take a short trip to Lower Manhattan. Along the way, I’ll fill in whatever blanks I can.”
“Lower Manhattan? Why would or investigation take us there?” asked Hank.
“Because that’s where the bulk of Graydon Creed’s research was done. It happened in conjunction with a company I know the X-men are familiar with…Shaw Industries.”
Nova Roma – Jungle Near Mount Anton
Wolverine’s transport sphere landed in a small clearing in the shadow of Mount Anton. It was a rocky trip for the feral mutant. When he left Genosha, he expected to link up with the rest of the X-men. That plan changed when his transport sphere was diverted to an alternate course. Professor Charles Xavier sent him an emergency signal, indicating that the plan had changed. Now he was stepping out into an unknown jungle in a very remote part of the world with any number of dangers ahead of him. It was basically the ideal mission for him.
As he stepped out from the sphere and surveyed his surroundings, he continued to receive telepathic messages from the Professor. Since there were other unfriendly forces besides Selene in this area, they had to stick to telepathy.
‘Thanks a ton for the heads up, Chuck. My head’s still ringing from these little detours you keep sending my way!’
‘I apologize for this sudden change of plan, Logan. It was a decision made under duress. We’ve apparently lost our edge in stealth and we’re being escorted to a secure landing platform in Nova Roma.’
‘You ain’t exactly told me much about this place. How the hell am I supposed to know who to gut out here?’
‘I made sure you landed a safe distance from any population centers. The Nova Romans seemed quite distracted by our presence. This should allow you to go unnoticed. Margali Sefton has been kind enough to give me the coordinates of Mount Anton and the signal I sent to your transport should put you in a good location to track Selene.’
‘Between her perfume and leather thongs, that bitch shouldn’t be too hard to find.’
‘Even if you do, don’t attempt to stop her by yourself. We don’t know what she’s planning at the moment. She’ll likely have plenty of backup with Madelyn Pryor and Exodus. That doesn’t even begin to factor how Sinister could be involved.’
‘So if you don’t want me to stop her, what the hell am I supposed to do? Take pictures and admire the show?’
‘If possible, I want you to disrupt her activities and get Illyana to safety. Delay her as much as possible until we can meet up with you in full force. We’ll try to get the Nova Romans on our side as well. We may need them.’
The Professor wasn’t giving him a whole lot of reasons to be confident. He was also overestimating Selene’s capabilities, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing given her track record. This didn’t make Logan any less impatient to hunt her down.
‘You can go ahead and play diplomat, Chuck. Not to spit on your orders or anything, but if I see Selene going for the knock-out blow, I’m taking her out!’
‘I would expect nothing less from you, Wolverine. But for your sake and that of this entire city, I hope you don’t have to.’
The Professor closed the telepathic link, leaving Wolverine alone in the jungle with his mission before him. This setting brought back a number of vague memories. He had many recollections of himself tearing through forests, jungles, and every other unforgiving wilderness nature could throw at him in. Sometimes he was searching for something. Sometimes he was just looking to survive. Those memories helped fuel his determination, allowing instinct to take over as he began his mission.
“You’re in my domain now, Selene, All the thongs and mystical shit ain’t gonna do you any good out here!” he proclaimed.
The feral mutant took a strong whiff of the air in search of scents. This area had a very unusual feel to it. His sphere landed in between a moderately thick canopy of trees. Whatever time zone this was, he surmised it was noon. There were all the scents and smells he would expect to find in a jungle. There were a diverse array of birds, animals, and bugs. It was hot, but not steaming hot. In a ways it didn’t fit.
He knew it was in South America and the landscape around him was very lush. There were also a number of mountains surrounding the area with Mount Anton being the largest. It seemed odd in the sense that the landscape was perfectly balanced, as if it had been carved out artificially. Wolverine had been around enough jungles to know that something about this wasn’t natural. If magic was involved, as Selene’s presence would indicate, that would explain why it didn’t seem to fit. But if that was the case, then maybe the Black Queen had a greater advantage than he thought.
While filtering through the scents, he kept moving. Using his claws, he cut through the thick vegetation. In front of him was an imposing mountain, which he surmised was Mount Anton. He suspected that this would be where they found Selene.
The former living weapon was on the trail for a good twenty minutes or so before a scent finally caught his attention. It was the same scent he smelled on Scanner back on Genosha, leading him to only one conclusion.
“Hmm…it ain’t perfume, but it still stinks, I got you now, bitch!” he snarled.
His predatory senses locked in, Wolverine stepped up his pace. He cut through branches, vines, and bushes as the trail before him narrowed. Selene was here and she was close. It didn’t seem likely that the rest of the X-men would catch up soon. It was up to him to make sure this woman didn’t succeed more than she already had.
Wolverine began contemplating all the ways he would attack this woman and make her pay for what she did to the X-men. Then a new scent struck him and he stopped dead in his tracks.
“No…that smell. It can’t be!” he grunted as he now stood at the base of a larger-than-average tree.
It was a scent even more distinctive than Selene’s. Before he could trace it, an infuriatingly familiar voice echoed down from above.
“Believe it, old buddy. It can!” said feral tone of Victor Creed.
“Sabretooth!” roared Wolverine.
“Surprised? You shouldn’t be!”
Wolverine looked up into the tree to see his old nemesis perched on a branch. The moment their eyes met, all the anger and betrayal of the past came rushing back. The mission with Selene was almost completely forgotten and the two rivals attacked with relentless fury.
“RRRRRRRAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!” roared Sabretooth as he leaped down from the tree.
He landed with punishing force, missing his nemesis by mere inches. Wolverine used his agility to duck out of the way. His claws still drawn, he skipped taking a defensive position and countered with a fury of slashes. Sabretooth avoided them, taking only a few cuts and scrapes. Wolverine tried to impale his old enemy like he had back in Canada. But this time, Sabretooth skillfully jumped over him, doing an acrobatic flip in the process. When he landed behind him he immediately attacked again. Wolverine barely turned around in time to catch him, forcing the two feral men into a bitter grapple.
“You must love having fucked up timing, Creed! You should’ve taken the hint when I impaled your ugly ass in Canada!” seethed Wolverine.
“There ain’t no timing involved here, Logan. I got some new friends and one of them is into some seriously kinky shit!” he sneered, “She’s also into keeping you out of her dirty business for as long as this party of hers lasts!”
“So now you’re working for Selene? Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more pathetic.”
“I do what I gotta do, old buddy. I told you back in Canada I would never stop hunting you. Well now you know I’m a man of my word!” roared Sabretooth.
“I got your word right here, bub!”
Wolverine broke the grapple, ducking out of Sabretooth’s grip and striking him with a hard slash that tore into his back. He would have gotten more if the nimble mutant hadn’t moved out of the way at the last moment. He had a nasty wound on his back now, but he barely seemed to notice and delivered a punishing back kick that knocked Wolverine back against the tree.
“You must feel pretty good about yourself, Wolverine,” taunted Sabretooth, “All this time you’ve been saving the world, hooking up new women, and parading around like some big time hero. Yet here you are, the same old Logan! Every bit the monster we’ve always been!”
“I’m nothing like you. Not anymore!” spat Wolverine.
“Oh really?” he questioned, “I can see it in your eyes. I can smell it on your stench. For all your heroics, you’re still the same jackass you’ve always been. Must be a painful reminder that all the booze in the world won’t erase!”
Sabretooth’s words came off as petty insults, but they struck deep. Wolverine snarled, recalling all his recent struggles. There was no denying there was still a monster inside him. Sabretooth could see it even if he refused to acknowledge it. Looking into those hate-filled eyes, he saw just how little he had changed and this enraged him even more.
“You really think you can taunt me with the past again? Even after I butchered your ass the last time you pulled that trick?”
“Not this time! Never again!” roared Sabretooth, “No more secrets! No more bullshit about the past! This time…you die! You and everyone else in this shitty jungle!”
“Everyone else?” questioned Wolverine, “I thought you said no more secrets, Creed.”
“It ain’t a secret. It’s a warning. When Selene and Sinister are done, you’ll see. It’s gonna make this long overdue payback all the more satisfying!”
Sabretooth launched another attack, striking Wolverine with a fury of slashes. The battle shattered the usual echoes of the jungle, consuming the two men in a fury of rage. All the while, Selene’s sinister plan was still unfolding. It seemed lost on both men, but it couldn’t stay that way. Something had to give. Either their desire for vengeance was going to consume them or Selene’s quest for destiny surely would.
Next Issue: Civilization No Longer Lost Part 2
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