Born with extraordinary powers, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men protect a world that hates and fears them. Their efforts are often matched by others who use their power less responsibly. Sometimes it’s not just other mutants either. Sometimes there are those with power that goes beyond mutation and into the realms of mysticism.
This has led X-men to aid an increasingly desperate Margali and Amanda Sefton. For generations, their family has been tasked with guarding the key to a dark power. That task was made more difficult when Selene, the Black Queen, conducted a ritual that unleashed some of that power. She had since been biding her time, believing destiny is on her side. Now she has lured the Seftons and the X-men into a clash with the past and the present.
After abducting Illyana Rasputin, Margali Sefton and the X-men went after Selene. They followed her to a hidden city in South America known as Nova Roma. This city, founded by remnants of the Roman Republic 2,000 years ago, has strong ties to the Seftons and Selene. However, due to their complicated history with the outside world, Nova Roma is less-than-welcoming of their aid.
Nova Roma – Airfield
“PRAETORIAN GUARD, SURROUND THE VESSEL!”
The elite legions Nova Roman’s military arrived in full force at the one major airfield within their secluded city. It was not unusual for aircraft to come and go, but every arrival was strictly scrutinized. But when an unknown black jet ventured into their airspace, it was a cause for concern.
Less than fifteen minutes ago, their air defenses detected an incoming jet. It was unmarked and bore all sorts of exotic stealth technology, not at all common with the aircrafts they usually saw. That was reason enough for their skilled mystics to capture it and lure pull it to the surface. It would have been easier to just shoot it down, but there was something on board that required much greater care and caution.
“Bring it down nice and slowly,” ordered the captain of the legion in his native tongue, “Don’t be afraid to use a little firepower if they get restless.”
“That would be unwise. Didn’t I tell you three times already who we suspected is aboard?” said the mystic by his said, who was in a special elite garb.
“I don’t care. Exile is exile. Those who break the decrees of Nova Roma must be broken themselves.”
The mood was tense amongst the Praetorian Guard. They had been working in groups of seven, casting a spell that trapped the incoming jet in the most secure manner possible. The vessel appeared through a thick veil of clouds surrounded in a reddish aura. It was a bit clunky in its descent, but the mystics remained careful in setting it down. They couldn’t risk provoking the contents inside.
The jet landed with a hard thud on a circular platform at the end of the airfield. As it did, the entire legion surrounded the aircraft. They were armed heavily, bearing automatic weapons and special swords endowed with mystical firepower. These weapons were standard for the elites forces of the Nova Roman military and each soldier stood ready to use them as the hatch opened.
“Please…lower your weapons. We mean no harm,” said Margali Sefton, speaking in her native tongue for the first time in over a decade.
“So it is you,” said one of the Praetorian Guard mystics, “The Sefton bloodline dares to set foot on our sacred lands?”
“A bloodline that was banished for good reason if I recall,” said the captain while pointing his magic sword towards Margali.
“I have an even better reason for returning,” she told them, “This city is in grave danger! Arrest me if you want, but I need to address the senate. The Black Queen has returned.”
“Liar!” yelled the top Praetorian Guard mystic, “You dare mock the skills of our mystics? Such a gross intrusions would have been easily detected.”
“First you ignore your exile. Then you insult our glory? I’ve heard enough.” said the captain, “Praetorian Guard, subdue the traitor!”
“FOR THE GLORY OF NOVA ROMA!”
Ignoring Margali’s pleas, every soldier opened fire. Half of them attacked with their assault rifles while the others attacked with their magic swords, launching mystical bolt along with a hail of bullets. It was an onslaught that should have subdued anyone. However, the bullets and the mystic bolts never made it to Margali. They were all stopped cold and deflected by a mysterious barrier.
“I don’t know what you told them, Miss Sefton. But I don’t think it was good enough,” said Phoenix, whose eyes were glowing with the fiery flames of the Phoenix Force.
“The power they are using is potent, but my cosmic flames should be more than sufficient to neutralize it.”
Stepping in front of Margali, Phoenix was engulfed in the bright flames of a cosmic force. This powerful display shocked the mystics and the Praetorian Guard. Phoenix rose up and with careful application of this vast power, she disarmed every soldier.
“What trickery is this?” demanded the lead captain as his sword was ripped from his hands.
“It’s no trickery, Captain. It’s the Phoenix,” said a bewildered mystic, “Somehow the traitor has allied herself with the forces of the gods.”
“I don’t care if she has the power of Jupiter himself. This attack will not stand!” said the lead mystic.
With the legions disarmed, the mystics stepped up. They wielded a power refined by generations of Roman mystics. With this power, they unleashed a mystical assault of mystical beams on the Phoenix.
“Whoa! These guys hit pretty hard,” grunted Phoenix as she tried to fight it off.
“I suppose I spoke too soon. At my current power levels, it may not be possible to resist.”
“Then we’ll give you an extra push,” said Cyclops, who emerged from behind Margali.
“If they will not listen, then we will make them,” said Colossus, who had no patience when it came to saving his sister.
The rest of the X-men stormed out of the jet. Storm, Iceman, Shadowcat, Gambit, Psylocke, and Rogue joined Colossus, Phoenix, and Cyclops. Professor Xavier, Shaman, and Nightcrawler stayed behind with Margali, who was definitely not enjoying her homecoming.
“Charles, we’re only making this worse,” she lamented.
“It always gets worse before it gets better,” said Professor Xavier as he assessed the situation, “Try to be gentle, X-men.”
“Gentle, he says. Is there such a thing in this line of work?” scoffed Iceman.
“We’ll improvise. We should be used to it by now,” said Storm, already summoning the full force of nature.
“Yeah…we should,” said Shadowcat dryly.
The X-men attacked with as much force as the sensitive nature of this mission would allow. Phoenix kept her fiery barriers up while the others tried to subdue the mystics. Cyclops, Gambit, and Iceman struck first with a barrage of optic blasts, charged cards, and ice beams. This halted most of the mystics from their attack. Those that braved the power were subdued by wind gusts from Storm.
“That be enough of that,” said Gambit.
“Think they’ll listen now?” wondered Iceman.
“Wait for it,” said Cyclops, not bothering to answer.
The mystical onslaught was stopped, but that didn’t stop the fighting. The Praetorian Guard was trained to defend Nova Roma with or without their weapons. When they saw the mystics go down, they attacked as well.
“THE REPUBLIC SHALL PREVAIL!”
“I don’t know what language they’re speaking, but I think they just told us to fuck off,” said Shadowcat, who casually phased through the incoming attackers.
“I think some of it is Latin. Whatever they’re speaking, these blokes know how to fight,” grunted Psylocke, who fought off the imposing guards with her ninjitsu skills.
“Too bad they ain’t all that strong…for them anyways,” grinned Rogue as she easily shoved away several guards.
Rogue was getting her first taste of action in quite some time. Her presence along with Colossus helped Shadowcat and Psylocke fight off a good portion of the Praetorian Guard. Shadowcat kept tricking soldiers into hitting each other while using some Krav Maga stun techniques. Psylocke did the same, using her agility to prevent them from surrounding her. Rogue and Colossus used their strength to finish the job. Even in the face of this onslaught, the dedicated soldiers showed little signs of letting up.
Cyclops, Iceman, Storm, Gambit, and Phoenix tried to join up with their friends and finish the job. They had to restrict the use of firepower. They needed these people to listen to them. Cyclops, Iceman, and Gambit relied on their hand-to-hand skills to take down the remaining guards. Phoenix and Storm tried to use a light dose of wind and telekinesis to push them back.
“I do not think being gentle is working,” said Colossus, growing restless as he roughly threw three soldiers across the platform.
“I second that,” grunted Iceman, taking a few hits as well, “Any chance for another telepathic save?”
“What do you think we’ve been trying to do?” grunted Psylocke, “I’m not fighting these guys for the workout.”
“It’s their helmets,” said Phoenix, “They’re treated with magic to resist psychic probes,”
“So what? We stick to the old fashioned way?” said Gambit, using his bow staff to fight off a few more guards.
“The longer we use that way, the more we push our luck,” said Cyclops, sensing that this was not helping their mission.
The X-men continued to struggle. Even the guards that had been seemingly knocked out pushed through the pain and kept fighting. The Praetorian Guard was trained to fight to the death. Margali Sefton knew this and grew increasingly anxious. The more they fought the Nova Romans, the more time they gave Selene. She was putting this city and the X-men in grave danger.
“If you have any additional diplomatic skills, now would be the time to use them, Margali,” said Shaman.
“I thought you said you said zhey vould detect your presence before ve landed. Is zhis vhat you expected?” said Nightcrawler, who had the comatose Amanda in his arms.
“I…I thought my arrival would reach the attention of certain authorities who were more understanding,” said Margali.
“Well if you have another way of getting through to them, I strongly advise that you use it,” urged Professor Xavier, sensing this fight was not going anywhere.
Margali watched as the X-men struggled to subdue the Praetorian Guard. Sooner or later someone was going to get hurt and that was going to make stopping Selene that much more difficult. She was frozen in place, uncertain of any action she could possibly take. She was tempted to use some magic of her own, but they would only take that as an even greater transgression. She was failing her city, her daughter, and her friends yet again.
As this feeling of helplessness consumed Margali, a new presence entered the battle. From across the landing platform, another legion dressed in Nova Roman garb approached in full force. At first they looked like reinforcements. Then a voice rang out over a loud speaker in the native language of Nova Roma.
“Praetorian Guard! This is Senator Lucius Antonius Aquilla. By order of the Senate, you are to stand down this instant.”
This powerful voice came as a relief to Margali. Almost immediately, the soldiers and mystics of the Praetorian Guard stopped their attack. The X-men were surprised by this sudden change. A few were in the middle of fighting back and even allowed themselves to get hit in order to comply with this order. It indicated just how loyal and well-trained they were.
“Bloody hell, more of them?” groaned Psylocke.
“We can take them. I’ll go through every one of them to get to Illyana!” grunted Colossus.
The Russian mutant stood ready to attack. Then Margali came rushing down from the jet to stop them.
“No X-men! Don’t attack,” she urged.
“Please tell me you know what you’re doing, Miss Sefton,” said Cyclops, keeping his hand on his visor just in case.
“It’s okay. I know this man,” she said breathlessly, “This is just what I hoped for.”
“I would say better late than never, but the pain in my back won’t let me,” grumbled Psylocke.
The X-men fell back and got behind Margali while she approached the incoming legion. Professor Xavier met up with them along with Shaman and Nightcrawler. They watched intently as Margali confronted the imposing Nova Roman forces. At the front of the legion was a well-dressed man with short graying hair. He had on a uniform that set him apart from the rest of the legion and appeared less-than-thrilled with Margali’s presence.
“Margali Sefton,” he said, “So it is true. You’ve returned to Nova Roma.”
“Indeed I have, Lucius. But do you mind if we discuss this in English? My friends, the X-men, need to be part of this.”
“Very well,” said Lucius, now speaking in accented English, “I suppose I should start by welcoming the famous X-men to the city of Nova Roma, even if such a gesture is hallowed by such unsettling circumstances.”
“If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the first senator to greet us this warmly,” said Phoenix.
“You’re not even the worst,” added Storm, “I suppose we should apologize as well for coming in so unexpectedly.”
“I’ll wait to see if accepting such an apology is warranted,” said Lucius apprehensively, “It’s not every day we have public figures such as yourselves barge onto our sacred lands. It’s also not every day an old friend returns from exile. I’m assuming there is a very good reason for this.”
“There is, Senator. That reason is named Selene Gallio,” said Professor Xavier.
The senator’s expression tensed at the mention of that name, as did a number of other soldiers and mystics. Maragli was not the only one who remembered her dark legacy. Selene’s history with Nova Roma was still fresh in the minds of many.
“I sense from your reaction you know that name,” the Professor went on, “From what I’ve been told, this woman has committed egregious crimes against Nova Roma…crimes far more serious than anything Margali is guilty of. Well as we speak, Selene is in the process of committing more crimes.”
“Is there a compelling reason of any sort that would prompt me to trust you?” said Lucius, still being cautious.
“I put myself, my daughter, and the power we protect at risk by coming back here. What greater reason can I give?” Margali retorted, “You know me, Lucius. I would never be so blatantly foolish if I wasn’t completely certain that Selene was a threat again.”
Lucius studied Professor Xavier and then Margali. He still had his doubts. He was familiar with world affairs. The X-men had a knack for complicating things wherever they went. However, with Margali there were fewer doubts. Even though he hadn’t seen her in many years, he saw the same dedicated woman he remembered. That was all the persuasion he needed.
“You haven’t changed a bit, Margali,” he said with a slight grin, “As a standing senator, I hereby exercise my authority to temporarily suspend your exile. You and your associates may enter Nova Roma on a provisional basis.”
Some of the Praetorian Guard who spoke English were shocked by this.
“Sir, you do realize you’re taking an unreasonable risk with this confessed traitor,” said the captain.
“When it comes to Selene Gallio, there is no such thing. It’s fully within my power and if you don’t like it, you can take it up with the courts. Now silence your tongue and escort our guests to the Curia. We must call an emergency session and prepare for the worst.”
The senator’s authoritative tone left little room for argument. The Praetorian Guard had reasons to be skeptical, but they were duty bound to serve the Republic. As such they carried out their orders, offering Margali Sefton and the X-men safe passage into their sacred city.
“Guests in a lost city…this could be both interesting and dangerous,” mused Phoenix as she and the rest of the team followed the legion.
“Interesting indeed,” muttered Psylocke, “I don’t know what has Beast so occupied, but he’s going to be very upset that he missed this.”
Downtown Manhattan – Shaw Industry Corporate Headquarters
The area surrounding Shaw Industries changed a great deal after the X-men’s previous visit. Cyclops, Phoenix, and Emma Frost left quite a mess. The entire block surrounding the Shaw Industries headquarters had been cordoned off so construction crews could work. That was hard when there was a gaping hole blown into the side of the building, but that didn’t stop Shaw from keeping a tight lid on his many secrets.
These secrets were what Sage was after. She arrived with Hank in a rented car just outside the concrete barriers that sectioned off the street. It was still the middle of the afternoon, but the activity around the building was hard to make out. Since they entered Lower Manhattan, the rain picked up. It was now a steady downpour and showed no signs of letting up. This would definitely work to their favor for what Sage hoped to do.
“Are you okay, my dear? You seem…tense,” said Beast, “Especially compared to your usual imperturbable demeanor.”
“I’m fine, Hank…in the most shallow of means,” she conceded, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been to this part of the city. I hoped to never come back here again.”
“Why? I think I’ve been patient enough through this dreary commute,” he reasoned, “We’ve spent the last 45 minutes discussing how Sebastian Shaw was able to conduct this advanced research you spoke of. I understand he had the tools, connections, and immoral tendencies to carry out horrendous experiments with this neuro-mechanical mutagenic interface technology. What I don’t understand is why this is such a personal issue for you.”
Sage struggling to maintain her usually strong poise as she gazed up at the building. This was difficult to talk about, even to the man she loved. Hank McCoy was one of the few men she ever truly opened up to. He knew her in ways that no other man could boast. However, there were still details of her life that she had yet to share.
“Let’s get out and survey the construction zone,” she said flatly as she turned off the engine for the car, “We need to determine how we’re going to make our way inside.”
“I’m not going to let you stall,” said Hank impatiently, “If you want my help and a continued position you have in my heart, you’ll have to be unequivocally honest with me.”
“I’m getting to that. You know how I like to multi-task,” she said as she stepped out of the car and into the rain, “Remember when you first met me, I went by the name, Tessa?”
“Of course. You still prefer that name with everybody you come across,” said Hank as he got out with her, adjusting his coat to protect his fur form the rain.
“Well it isn’t just because it sounds more sophisticated. There’s a reason for it…one that goes beyond a desire to keep my personal identity and mutant identity separate.”
“So this is another secret you’ve been keeping from me.”
“More oa partial truth,” she retorted, “You see, Tessa started off as an alias. After I moved to America from Europe, I needed to market my skills in a particular way. I wasn’t looking for some run-of-the-mill IT job. I wanted something bigger. So I created a new identity that I utilized within the less than ethical parts of the business world.”
“You mean the black market,” Hank surmised.
“It wasn’t out of greed or malice, I assure you. I was brilliant, but ambitious to a fault. As Tessa, I made a name for myself hacking networks, programming advanced software, and playing an active part in mutant research. Like you, I wanted to uncover the mysteries of mutation. Unlike you, I was willing to cross certain lines to do so.”
Hank found it hard not to scorn his lover for such actions and she did not avoid it. She absorbed his resentment as he followed her along the barriers lining the streets, braving the pouring rain and some slow-moving traffic on the streets. He ignored the weather and the wet fur to catch up with her, intent on finding out more.
“Is that what led you to Shaw Industries?” he surmised.
“It was a significant factor. That I won’t deny,” said Sage as she crossed the street with her lover by her side, “Shaw Industries was doing research that was beyond anything I had seen before, including the military. I didn’t much care for Shaw, but I made myself indispensable to him. My ability to produce helped me earned his trust, so much so he made me the chief scientist of his mutant division. I crunched the numbers, ran the tests, and turned the data into hard science. All the while I maintained my alias as Tessa, a woman who operated like a machine.”
“But it didn’t stay that way, did it? Something happened that even a machine couldn’t handle.”
Even in the rain, Sage struggled to hide her emotions from this man. She could feel his gaze on her. The current mission was seemingly lost on him.
She tried to keep her focus. Her computer-like mind analyzed every detail of this area. Staring through the gates, she noted the construction equipment littered throughout the exterior and interior of the building. There were a few workers running about, but the rain had forced many inside. Closing her eyes, she used her telepathy to pick up any stray thoughts that could aid her. Even in ruins, Shaw’s facilities were robust when it came to thwarting telepaths. That didn’t stop her form picking up a few useful bits of information.
“There’s loading area on the other side of the street where trucks enter,” she said, “One of the foremen leaves the door to the trash compactor open because it saves him the trouble of unlocking it when his co-workers have to go to the bathroom. We should be able to work our way into the building from there.”
“You haven’t answered my question,” said Hank strongly
“We’ll pick continue this conversation when we’re some place quieter,” she said, still carefully surveying the area, “Right now we need to get into that building.”
She started walking towards the other end of the block. Hank abruptly grabbed her arm and pulled her back. In the process she was turned around so she could look into the eyes of her concerned lover. There was a sense of desperation in his eyes. He sincerely needed to know the truth.
“Please Sage…do not be this dispassionate with me,” he urged, “I know you can turn your emotions off the same way I can turn off a coffee maker. But for the sake of my heart and yours, don’t turn them off at this precarious moment.”
“I’m not turning them off. I’m trying to keep them in check while we walk unarmed into Sebastian Shaw’s domain,” said Sage with a subtle yet apparent frustration.
“I have to keep my emotions in check too and I don’t have the luxury of turning them off,” retorted Hank, “Now tell me! Before we enter this potential death trap, what led you astray from Shaw?”
“It’s…not important,” she said, trying to remain calm.
“It is to me. Is that not enough?”
“In an ideal world, it might be. But that is not the world we live in last I checked.”
“Ideal or not, there are reasonable and unreasonable measures with which to test someone’s trust. And right now, you’re asking too much of me. I need to know.”
“Want and need are not the same things, Hank,” she tried to argue.
“If you want me to keep helping you, you’ll tell me. Do you honestly believe there is anything you can say that will make me stop loving you?”
Finally, Sage couldn’t take it anymore. In an uncharacteristic burst of emotion, she blurted out the truth.
“I slept with him, okay! I slept with Sebastian Shaw to learn his secrets. Happy now?”
This revelation silenced Hank McCoy in a way few things could. Even in the pouring rain, those words resonated strongly. Looking into the eyes of the usually stoic woman, he saw a lot of pain and self-hatred. They were emotions she couldn’t turn off. Even for a woman with a computer-like mind, they were difficult to process.
The two lovers stood in a uncomfortable silence. Hank didn’t have anything articulate or comforting to say. He let go of Sage’s arm and caressed her face with his furry hand, sending every message he needed to say with a simple gesture before turning towards the building. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing else to discuss.
“Let’s go,” he told her as they started walking again, “Lead the way into the building. We have a job to do.”
“I’ll say it once and I’ll keep saying it until it stops being so appropriate…wow,” said an astonished Bobby Drake.
“I would tell you to give it a rest already, but for once I’m not compelled to slap you,” said an equally astonished Kitty Pryde.
“It’s like being in a History Channel documentary and one of those Final Fantasy games,” added Scott.
“Didn’t know you had time for video games, homme. But I ain’t got a better analogy,” said Remy.
“Now I know Beast would go into seizures if he saw this,” said Jean.
The X-men were used to being astonished, but not like this. They were led into the city of Nova Roma on a special transport, courtesy of Senator Aquilla. This transport was a large hovercraft, providing a platform on which they could stand and take in the view of the city. It was clearly designed with the intention of impressing visitors with the glory of Nova Roma. Whether it was done out of arrogance or practicality, there was certainly plenty to admire.
The city was about the size of Manhattan Island and very reflective of its Roman past. To the north was Mount Anton, to the east was a large lake, and in every other direction there was dense jungle. Each of these natural barriers surrounded a vast urban landscape. The architecture, style, and layout of the city looked like it had been taken right out of a history book. It was elaborately planned, the buildings and streets laid out in a grid-like formation. The center of the city had all the government buildings and various temples to the Olympian gods. Moving out from this central area were more typical and modern structures that included office buildings, markets, and residential areas.
While the city itself was very Roman, there was also a very modern feel to it as well. The streets, buildings, and layout had plenty of technology to display. There were cars, traffic lights, and pretty much everything any ordinary city would have. For Nova Roma, however, it seemed like the technology was more polished. It was like the city was a decade or so ahead of everyone else. This could have been the result of integrating magic into the mix. Whatever the case, it was quite impressive.
“This city is incredible,” said Charles Xavier as he looked over the landscape.
“It’s Roman, Charles. It’s obligated to be incredible,” said Margali with a touch of sarcasm.
“It’s so isolated yet it looks so modern. It even feels more than modern,” said Ororo.
“Like I said earlier, the founders of Nova Roma saved a lot of the technology that was lost when Rome fell centuries ago. That extra boost has always given the city a leg up when it came to engineering and innovation. It’s still not completely ahead of the curve. It never pulled too far ahead of the rest of the world.”
“I’m under the impression you’re a bit cynical of our heritage, Margali,” said Senator Aquilla.
“I’m sorry, Lucius. Exile will do that to a person,” she sighed.
“Then allow me to fill in the blanks because there’s a lot more to Nova Roma than your less-than-flattering assessment.”
Margali was tempted to be bit more cynical with her old friend. She was held back by Shaman and Kurt. They did not need her to push their already tenuous luck.
“Easy, Miss Sefton,” said Kurt, “Ve are zheir guests after all.”
“You may be guests, but I’m still a traitor,” she said distantly.
Margali turned her attention back to Kurt and her comatose daughter, leaving Lucius to answer the X-men’s burning questions. His subordinates maneuvered the hover platform over some of the busiest parts of the city so that the X-men could see the grandeur of Nova Roma. They were able to make out cars, people, and culture from their vantage point. It was quite foreign to them in addition to being awe-inspiring.
“Much of what Margali says is true,” said Lucius, “In the same way Rome maintained a technological advance when it dominated in ancient times, Nova Roma sought to do the same. This is a big reason why we have thrived for centuries. However, we have not completely cut ourselves off from the outside world. We still import ideas and innovations such as TV, electronics, cars, medicine, and pretty much everything you would find in a other cities.”
“Including reality TV? Because that would really sour the whole deal,” said Betsy.
“Like I said…pretty much everything,” said the senator, not cracking a smile, “We’ve always managed to remain a step ahead. We make our computers run faster, our cars more efficient, and our medicines more sophisticated. It’s part of our Roman heritage. We strive to be better than the barbarians around us.”
“Forgive me if I say that sounds somewhat arrogant,” said Piotr Rasputin, who was one of the few who was less than amazed.
“It is. We Romans have never been known for our humility. It takes a certain level of arrogance to maintain a city of this caliber in secret for so many years. There are times when it does more harm than good. But we try to maintain a certain level of social and cultural progress.”
“Except when some of those traditions come before family friends,” said Margali under her breath.
“We don’t always make the progress we wish we could, but that doesn’t stop us from trying,” said Lucius, ignoring Margali’s comment, “Rome has always been willing to adapt. The old patriarchal order has waned over the centuries. Nova Roma has been quick to adopt more liberal philosophies like capitalism and human rights. In some instances our republican form of government has made it easier. That’s why we often made those advancements before most other societies.”
“You sound so dang proud, Ah can’t help but think there’s a catch,” said Rogue dryly.
“Think what you want. We’ve worked tirelessly to make Nova Roma a beacon of civilization.”
“Guess that means he’s not going to reveal what that catch is,” said Betsy, rolling her eyes.
“However, we have not completely cut ourselves off,” the senator continued, “Over the centuries, we have allowed outsiders from surrounding lands to join our city. That’s why you’ll see a variety of mixed races within our populous. That’s also why you’ll notice our language bearing traces of Latin, Spanish, and Incan.”
“Yet a lot of you seem to speak pretty good English,” said Professor Xavier.
“Part of maintaining Nova Roman’s status requires that we be well-educated. You would never know it, but for generations the most gifted of Nova Romans have left the safety of this city to learn about the outside world and import their knowledge. Every citizen is bound by duty to protect the sanctity of our city. It is among our highest laws and for centuries, it was upheld. For the last few decades, however, such trips have become far more limited.”
“Which I guess would explain why you were able to keep a secret like this in the age of the internet and TMZ,” said Jean Grey.
“I imagine my past transgressions are partially to blame for that as well,” said Margali.
“Not as much as you think, but more than I’m sure you’re comfortable with,” said Lucius.
“What do you mean?” asked Professor Xavier.
“There are other reasons why Nova Roma has had to become more isolated in recent years and it has nothing to do with the difficulty of keeping a secret in this day and age.”
“This be where the whole magic mojo comes into play, non?” surmised Remy.
“In a manner of speaking,” said Lucius cryptically, “I would rather save the details for my fellow senators. They’ll be very interested in hearing about Selene’s recent activity.”
The senator’s tone sparked deeper curiosity. There were definitely a few details he wasn’t telling them. Looking over towards Margali, Charles Xavier sensed she didn’t know either. She was too focused on her daughter to get excited about a meeting with the Nova Roman Senate.
They should would get their answers soon enough. The hovercraft arrived at the center of the city and touched down just outside the Curia, the main house of the Senate. The building was one of the most prominent in the city. It looked like a much fancier version of the Capitol in Washington DC, adorned with an elaborate landscape and various statues of Roman gods. It was surrounded by gates and guarded by various legions. Once they landed, the legions surrounded the area and provided a clear path for Lucius. The presence of Margali and the X-men earned some unfavorable looks. Never-the-less, they maintained their disciplined poise.
“We’re here,” announced Lucius as he stepped off the hovercraft, “We must hurry. The senate should be gathering in our secure chamber as we speak.”
“Not to get too ahead of ourselves, Mr. Senator. But what are the chances they will help us in stopping Selene?” asked Piotr, still deeply concerned about his sister.
“I cannot say. This matter must be debated first,” said Lucius.
“Debated? A bitch as crazy as Selene is threatenin’ this city you love so much and you wanna debate it?” said Rogue.
“Make no mistake. We take every threat to our city seriously. But there are procedures for this sort of thing,” said Lucius in a more frustrated tone.
“Not to knock your legal traditions, but you do know this is Selene we’re dealing with, don’t you?” reminded Jean, “She’s never been one to offer her enemies certain advantages…like time.”
The Nova Roman senator stopped walking for a moment and turned to face the X-men.
“I’m fully aware of the threat posed by this woman. More so than any of you can possibly imagine,” said Lucius firmly, “However, we are a city built on law. I’ve already pulled my share of strings to get you and an exiled citizen back into our graces. Don’t expect me to work miracles when I’m already risking my status and my reputation for you.”
“Translation, prepare to be disappointed,” said Kitty.
This remark earned Kitty a stern look from Lucius. The rest of the X-men spared her the same scorn. Harsh or not, they had enough experience in these matters to know when she had a point. For those like Piotr, who were eager to get their hands on Selene, it did not bode well.
“While they debate, Illyana could be suffering!” he said under his breath, “Why can’t we simply borrow one of those hovering machines and go after Selene?”
“I share your concern, Piotr,” said Professor Xavier, “However, we’ll only do her a disservice if we try to confront Selene without a plan. Like it or not, the Nova Romans are our best hope.”
“He’s right, Peter. You can’t beat an enemy like this without a plan,” said Scott, “We’ve tried that in the past and it usually fails spectacularly.”
“Just keep biding your strength, Peter. You’ll get your shot. We all will,” assured Jean.
“That in turn requires having a little faith in these people,” said Kurt, who was intent on getting back at Selene as well, “The Nova Romans have survived for 2000 years. Zhey must be doing something right. Who knows? Zhis senate of theirs may be more efficient zhan zhe one ve’re used to dealing vith.”
“I’ll believe that when I can make snowballs on the sun, Kurt,” said Bobby.
The X-men clung to whatever hope they could as they followed Lucius to the main entrance of the Curia. Scott, Jean, Bobby, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, Kitty, Piotr, and Kurt couldn’t help but be a little defensive while surrounded by all these armed soldiers. Margali and Shaman tried to ignore them and focused primarily on the comatose Amanda. Professor Xavier sensed plenty of hostility in these people, but he also sensed a desire to save their city from any major threats.
They reached the large doors of the Curia, which was guarded by more soldiers. They all acknowledged Senator Aquilla while casting their suspicion on the X-men. Sensing this could be a problem, Lucius gestured towards his Praetorian Guard.
“I believe we can take it from here,” he told them, “The Curia is a place of politics, not a barracks.”
“Yes sir, Senator Aquilla,” said the lead captain, “Please let us know if these outsiders become a problem.”
“Leave diplomacy in the hands of professionals, Captain,” said the senator as he opened the heavy doors to the chamber, “The return of the Black Queen requires hard work and a level head on every front so I expect every ranking official in Nova Roma to…”
Senator Aquilla’s words stopped the moment he stepped into the Curia. Upon entering, he was met with an unexpected and infuriating sight that went against every last bit his rhetoric. To make matters worse, it involved an all too familiar figure.
“By the fire of Hades…AMARA!” bellowed the senator.
“Oh my…” said Ororo Munro, her eyes wide with shock along with everyone else’s.
“This mission just keeps getting more and more mental,” exclaimed Betsy.
It was not a sight anyone not versed in Greco-Roman sensibilities expected to see. In the hallways of the main lobby, there was an opulent fountain made up of statues depicting various Olympian gods. The fountain was the size of a small pool and gushing with purified water. But what caused such a commotion was an attractive teenager with slightly tanned skin, long blond hair, and a fairly voluptuous frame standing completely naked under the fountain.
She wasn’t alone either. There were two men and two women with her. Both the men were naked and both the girls were only wearing panties. The men looked like off-duty soldiers and the girls appeared to be their sisters. They were all swooning around the girl, two of the men kissing down her neck while the younger girls playfully splashed around. It was hard to tell if they were drunk or just fooling around. It looked like they were having fun. But when the girl saw the enraged face of Lucius Aquilla, she let out an awkward groan.
“Oh uh…hello Daddy,” she said, “I thought you were in a closed session.”
“Amara…do I need to raise Aristotle from the dead to make sense of what you’re doing?” said the enraged senator.
“You had me taking notes on all those boring committee meetings since sunrise. Is it wrong of me to take a break? Especially when it gets so hot in these chambers?”
“Treating this esteemed intuition as your own private bath house does not constitute a break. And in case you haven’t noticed, we have guests in our midst.”
“From the outside? After how many months?” she questioned, “I don’t think even Aristotle would rationalize being this enraged, father. Besides, they don’t seem to mind.”
The young woman was exceedingly immodest. She casually shooed away the men and women, who were a bit more concerned at the presence of a senator. They quickly slipped away, grabbing their clothes and running off. Amara took a bit more time, casually stepping out of the fountain and fixing her wet hair in the process. She didn’t seem to mind everybody looking at her exposed body. She actually seemed to enjoy it and wasn’t in too great a hurry to cover herself with her ceremonial toga.
“Dude…” said Bobby, who couldn’t stop staring.
“Exactly how long is it going to take you to pick your jaw up off the floor, Bobby?” commented Kitty.
“Don’t bother asking, Kitty. I think we’ve lost him,” said Jean as she waved her hand in front of Bobby’s face in a vain effort to get his attention.
“Guess these Nova Roman folk ain’t much for modesty,” commented Rogue, finding it hard not to stare as well.
It made for an awkward moment. It still hadn’t sunk in just how different this culture was. They apparently didn’t have the same reservations. An unexpected taste of Nova Roman sensibilities made it all the more apparent.
“Just outta curiosity, was it Greece or Rome that was big on wine and orgies?” asked Remy under his breath.
“Actually, it was both,” said Scott, who was among those who diverted his gaze.
“Really?” said the Cajun, sounding more intrigued, “I’ll say it then. This place be alright!”
This earned him an elbow to the ribs from both Betsy and Rogue.
“Of course you would like it,” said Betsy.
“Don’t get too high and mighty, Betsy. Ah saw you starin’ at the men,” said Rogue.
“So vere you,” muttered Kurt under his breath, who also tried not to look.
“Dang it, Kurt! Ah thought siblings were supposed to be on the same side.”
This was starting to get out of hand. Despite the spectacle, Professor Xavier stepped in.
“Everybody please!” he said strongly, “Selene is still at large and we have no time to be shocked by cultural sensibilities.”
“Not even a little?” said Bobby.
“Shut up and wipe that goofy look off your face already,” yelled Jean, throwing in some Phoenix flares to silence him and everyone else.
While this was going on, Senator Aquilla was processing the mortifying position his daughter put him in. He could barely face her as she approached, now fully dressed in her toga that was supposed to display her status. Once again, she was all too eager to take advantage of that status.
“You almost look ashamed of me, father. Should I go spend the rest of the afternoon in a dark corner?” she asked dryly.
“No Amara, you’re staying with me,” grumbled Lucius, “We have a crisis on our hands and I would rather keep my eye on you. The last thing I need is you running off to set new standards of decadence.”
“Of course you do. The gods must be so irate every time a man’s daughter attempts to have fun in the slightest,” she retorted.
Lucius scorned his daughter’s remarks, but she barely took notice and walked out ahead of him towards the secure chamber. She still had the attention of the X-men, especially Bobby Drake. The mortified senator felt everyone’s critical gazes on him. He also felt Margali’s gaze as well.
“That’s the same sweet infant I remember you cradling so fondly?” she said, “What’s the story, Lucius? It doesn’t strike me as typical teenage rebellion.”
“I’d…rather not discuss it, Margali. You of all people know how sensitive family matters can be,” said Lucius.
“Will she be a distraction?” asked Professor Xavier.
“The last thing we need is some brat not taking a threat like Selene seriously,” said Shaman.
“That brat is my daughter. She needs to be part of this.”
“To keep an eye on her, right? Or are zhere other reasons?” said Kurt, sensing the tell-tale signs of poorly kept secrets.
Lucius Aquilla muttered a string of angry curses in Latin, refusing to offer any more clues. There was definitely another story with him. Kurt wasn’t the only one noticing now. The Nova Roman Senator chose to ignore it just as he chose to ignore the many unresolved conflicts he had with his daughte.
“Come…we must meet up with the rest of the senate. The sooner we discuss this matter, the sooner we can work on expelling the Black Queen from our lands.”
Nova Roma – Jungle
Sabretooth and Wolverine had shed plenty of blood thus far in their latest battle. The two bitter rivals beat, stabbed, and brutalized one another in every conceivable way. It got to a point where their respective uniforms were almost completely in tatters. Neither of them showed any signs of letting up.
“ERRRRRRRRRRR! I’M GONNA RIP THE METAL RIGHT OFF YOUR BONES, WOLVERINE!” roared Sabretooth, who had blood seeping down his face and torso.
“Skinning a cat is easier,” taunted an equally bloodied Wolverine.
Sabretooth launched himself at Wolverine like a predator seeking to subdue its prey. The former living weapon ducked out of the way, which was just what Sabretooth expected. As soon as he landed, he pulled off an acrobatic back-flip as Wolverine tried to counter with another punishing stab attack. The moment he landed behind him, Sabretooth dug his claws right into Wolverine’s back so that he got a firm grip on his flesh.
“AUUUUGGHHHHHH!” roared Wolverine as pain filled his body.
“Don’t expect me to let go this time, old buddy,” sneered Sabretooth.
Through the blinding pain, Wolverine tried to push back in order to force his nemesis off him. It did not work. Sabretooth was ready for him and shoved him forward with much greater force, pinning him against a nearby tree. With blood pouring out his back, Wolverine was trapped in Sabretooth’s grasp.
“Enjoying yourself yet, Logan? I sure am!” seethed the feral mutant.
“Ungh! You gonna…finally come out to me, Creed?” said Logan, his voice choked with blood.
“Resorting to gay jokes now? You must be losing it,” laughed Sabretooth, “Guess that means you’re finally getting old. Or maybe playing hero has made you soft, Just like that bitch, Rose!”
The mention of that name stirred within Wolverine a new surge of rage. Thinking about Rose had that effect on him before. Now that effect was even greater.
In a sudden burst of strength, Wolverine dug his claws into the tree and forcibly shoved back. It was just enough to push Sabretooth away from him briefly. In that small window of time, he ripped one of his claws out of the tree and slashed Sabretooth across the face. With even more rage, he relentlessly slashed his nemesis in an all-out attack.
“EDON’T…YOU…EVER…SAY THAT NAME!” he roared in between slashes.
“Augh! Always sensitive to the ladies, eh?” grinned Sabretooth, wiping the blood off his face.
“FUCK YOU, CREED!” said Wolverine, delivering another hard slash.
The carnage continued. Wolverine tried to go in for the kill, attempting to strike Sabretooth’s jugular. He went on the defensive again, pulling off more nimble maneuvers to avoid the punishing onslaught. Wolverine tried to back him into a collection of heavy bush. Sabretooth continued to frustrate his efforts, using his agility to leap up onto the branch of a tree so that he was momentarily out of Wolverine’s reach.
“You gonna quit running like the rat you are and fight already?!” seethed Wolverine.
“Will you quit it with the outrage already? I swear you were less annoying when you went into that berserker rage of yours,” said Sabretooth dryly.
“I ain’t the same monster you’ve fought before. I can kick your ass and stay focused.”
“Bullshit! You ain’t changed. You’ll never change. I know it because I know you. I can still see it despite all the pussy-ass X-men gear you wear.”
“Haven’t I heard this shtick from you already? You think if you keep spewing this same crap it’ll magically make it true?” said Wolverine dryly.
“I don’t need magic to prove my point, old buddy. You keep proving it for me,” grinned Sabretooth, “Since I joined Sinister, I did some catching up on your exploits. You’ve been a busy little traitor, trying not to live in the past while constantly getting fucked by it.”
“Is that what you do during your spare time? Sift through Sinister’s dirty secrets?”
“What can I say? It’s more entertaining than his porno stash,” grinned Sabretooth, “I can’t help it if the guy has some interesting information about you. Shit, he had some intel about me too. Had some nice tidbits that really made my day!”
“I thought you said you were gonna skip the whole I-know-secrets bullshit.”
“I know I did. I can’t help it if it’s so much fun!” sneered Sabretooth.
Leaving Wolverine with no answers as always, the feral mutant jumped down from the tree and attacked again. This time he went on the offensive, charging Wolverine and tearing into him. This time his nemesis wasn’t psyched out by his ramblings. He stayed on a strong defensive, blocking his slashes and avoiding him with some agility of his own.
Eventually they found themselves back in the clearing where the fight began. From here, Wolverine began countering Sabretooth’s attacks. When he tried to slash at him, he got off a quick jab that punctured a few major veins in his arms. As these hits added up, Sabretooth shed more blood. Even with his healing, the blood loss forced him to slow down. It allowed Wolverine to gain the upper hand again.
“Heh…trying to bleed me to death, Logan? Is that the kind of strategy these X-punks have taught you?” scoffed Sabretooth with blood pouring down his face.
“You’re as dumb as you are ugly, Creed. You think you can keep psyching me out and the blood on your face keeps proving you wrong,” retorted Wolverine.
“It also helps that it’s true,” he said with a snide grin.
“Even if it is, it doesn’t make you any less a shithead. Being in the X-men taught me a few other things besides keeping my berserker rage in check.”
“Is one of them hitting like a crippled midget?”
“Since you’re too stupid to see it, I’ll keep this real simple for you,” said Wolverine with an ominous grin, “You fight a guy with the IQ of a shoe, tear into him until he thinks he’s outsmarted you, and let him make a damn fool of himself. All the while, you study the scents and trails he left so you can figure out where he came from. That, you retarded dirt bag, is strategy.”
It took a moment to sink in for Sabretooth. For once, Wolverine played him. He hunted him down with the intent of leaving no trail for him to follow, leaving him free to settle their score without Selene’s plan getting in the way. Now he may have just screwed everything up.
“You son-of-a…” Sabretooth began.
“Took you long enough,” grinned Wolverine.
In a blind rage, Sabretooth tried to take down his hated enemy. As he did, Wolverine slipped in and delivered a blow that caught him off-guard. Leading with his claws, he drove the adamantium blades right into Sabretooth’s eyes. Blood and puss quickly shot out, putting the feral mutant in a world of pain and blinding him in the process.
“ARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!” he howled.
“Try and follow me now. I’ll be sure to tell Selene and Sinister how much you fucked up,” taunted Wolverine.
The battered X-man left the bloodied figure behind and stormed off into the jungle. He was pretty battered himself, but he had enough strength and eye-sight to follow the trail Sabretooth had left. This saved him the trouble of surveying this endless jungle in search of Selene. Now he knew exactly where to find her.
Despite being blind and humiliated, Sabretooth was not about to give up on settling this score. That runt couldn’t get away again. Even if he couldn’t see, he could still smell him. He couldn’t let him disrupt this operation. It wouldn’t just mess up this deal he had with Sinister. It would rob him of an opportunity to torment Logan in entirely new ways.
‘You think you can slow me down, Logan? You could take away all my senses. I’ll still find you. I still got a few secrets you’re gonna hate knowing. Even without my eyes, I wanna see the look on your face when you learn the truth.’
“Hurry up, you lazy sloths! I’d like to begin this ritual before Rome falls a second time,” yelled an increasingly impatient Selene.
“Cool your jets, your highness,” said Blockbuster dryly, “This magic shit ain’t our specialty.”
“Yeah, we’re paid to bust heads, not play Harry Potter,” said Harpoon.
“I don’t care if your specialty is knitting sweaters. All you have to do is make sure everything is in place while I do the dirty work. Now quit you’re whining and move faster!”
The Marauders let out a collective groan. Selene may have been Sinister’s squeeze, but she lacked his subtlety and charisma. How they made it work was a mystery that no one cared to solve. Such details were far from the minds of Blockbuster, Riptide, Arclight, and Harpoon. They were still putting the finishing touches on the setup for this ritual. The sooner they got it done, the sooner they could get back to what they were good at.
Selene was pretty ambitious with this ritual, incorporating both her mystical talents and Sinister’s technology. The most difficult task was assembling the large, refrigerator-sized amplifiers in concentric circles around a designated area. These amplifiers were Sinister’s contribution and were supposed to carry out some other experiments during the ritual. They didn’t ask questions on the details. Their only concern was the end result.
While the Marauders were doing the heavy lifting, the Black Queen worked with Gabriel Summers and Madelyn Pryor. Gabriel helped Sinister power up the amplifiers while Madelyn followed her mistress’s instructions on configuring the central area. Making this work required some of the most potent artifacts Selene had in her collection. These artifacts included a collection of precious stones that were the equivalent of polished diamonds in the mystical world. They had to be arranged in just the right way, forming a series of elaborate patterns so they would get the desired effects.
“We’re almost ready, Mistress. Shall we prepare the main ingredient?” said Madelyn, showing more excitement than usual.
“Not yet,” said Selene, casting a gaze to the still bound Illyana Rasputin, “Before we begin, there’s the slight issue of aesthetics.”
“Ah, my favorite issue,” her apprentice said, “Looking our best is an important aspect of any ritual.”
“It’s not us I was referring to. It’s that unfortunate aspect of magic that is neither art nor science. Like every destiny, there is a story leading up to it.”
As she contemplated this story, Selene went to work on the central area. She had with her a small bag containing a white, paste-like substance. With it, she painted a series of symbols into the dirt. These symbols included pictograms, crosses, and incantations. They all fit into an exotic star-like formation in the center of the amplifiers. As she painted some of these symbols, the details of the story came rushing back to her.
“When I was no older than ten, my mother told me the story about the Blood Stone of Set,” she mused, “It was a story passed down from generations of Gallios, going all the way back to the Gallio that helped found Nova Roma.”
“Did she attempt this same ritual, Mistress?” asked Madelyn.
“She never got the chance. The Blood Stone of Set is a difficult power to wield, almost as much as the M’krann crystal. Yet somehow, my ancestors found a way to utilize it. No one knows where it came from or why they ended up locked in this mountain. Old legends spoke of the stones being the crystallized blood of the gods.”
“And since gods don’t exist, there’s a strong possibility that the so-called blood in those stones had a mutant origin,” added Sinister, “Based on what I’ve learned this relic, they could be the key towards completing my research.”
“They are also the key to a source of magic that my ancestors mastered. My mother told me how the power of this stone was channeled through Mount Anton. It allowed us to forge a new kingdom where we could pursue our destiny. The point of using this power to create Nova Roma was to have a kingdom with which to rule until the power of the M’krann Crystal was unlocked. As you know, that plan didn’t unfold as expected.”
“I take it this is the part where your ancestors were usurped,” said Gabriel.
“That would be too generous to the ungrateful swine that attacked them,” said Selene angrily as she etched in the last string of symbols, “Our plan was to extract the Blood Stone so we could wield it in its full capacity. This required sacrifice that those degenerates in Nova Roma weren’t willing to make so they used some magic of their own to cast my family into exile.”
“I don’t see why you’re so upset, my dear. Whatever magic they used, it wasn’t enough to keep you out,” said Sinister.
“After 2,000 years, no less,” she said bitterly, “In that time they’ve enjoyed the fruits of my ancestors’ labor. They selfishly indulge in the power the Blood Stone of Set affords them. They use it to protect their precious city and endlessly eat, drink, and fuck. It is an insult to the grand vision my family had for these lands. That’s why after I intend to cut Nova Roma off. I’m going to finish what my ancestors started and retrieve the Blood Stone of Set from this mountain.”
“Thereby ending their free ride on your family’s toils?” surmised Madelyn.
“Among other things,” said Selene ominously, “The enemies of the Gallio family must suffer for their betrayal. I may have lost the M’krann crystal, but I can still seize my destiny with the Blood Stone.”
“And your destiny will make mine that much easier,” grinned Sinister as he finished configuring the amplifiers, “It will be a perfect marriage of magic and science. To be rulers among men is fitting enough. But to be rulers among gods…that is certainly worth great sacrifice.”
The Black Queen grinned as well as she put the finishing touches on the symbols. She and Sinister were poised to become masters of destiny. This time nothing was going to stop her. She would have both her destiny and her vengeance.
“The amplifiers are fully calibrated,” Gabriel announced.
“Excellent! Are we ready to begin?” asked Sinister.
“Indeed we are, my love,” said Selene intently, “Tell your Marauders to stand back. I can take it from here.”
“We’ll defend the site, Mistress Selene. No interference will disrupt this ritual,” said Gabriel strongly, his eyes flashing with reddish energy.
“It had better not. Extracting the Blood Stone of Set from this mountain requires that the ritual be a little messy.”
Selene turned her attention to Illyana Rasputin, who was still lying on the ground bound by her hands and feet. She was carefully watched over by Exodus, who had been eerily silent since this mission began. When Selene approached, he instinctively grabbed Illyana by her shoulders and lifted her up so she could face the Black Queen.
“Your moment has come, Miss Rasputin,” she told her, “Are you ready to assume your role with destiny?”
“Mmf fmm!” grunted the Russian girl angrily, the gag in her mouth muffling her words.
“I don’t know what you said, so I’ll just assume that’s a yes,” said Selene playfully, “Exodus, you know what to do.”
“Yes, madam,” he said in a flat tone, “For revealing the truth to me, you’ll also have my will at your disposal.”
“Help me complete this task and I’ll help you make something of that truth.”
Exodus nodded loyally and flew up towards the summit of the mountain with the struggling Illyana in his arm. As he did, the young Russian girl struggled harder. It did her no good. There was nothing she could do to break these mystical restraints. She was a novice in the mystic arts compared to Selene. She wasn’t going to escape this without help. Her only hope rested with her brother and his friends.
After a quick flight, Exodus reached the peak of Mount Anton. At this altitude, the air was a lot colder and the clouds were a lot thicker. It didn’t bother him in the slightest, but it did disorient Illyana. Her struggling waned in these new conditions, making Exodus’s job easier as he set her down upon a pile of snow.
“Do not struggle, young one. You’ll find that revelation is a far greater gift than a mortal life,” said Exodus.
With an expression as cold as the mountain air, Exodus reached into his pocket and pulled out a small flask given to him by Selene. It was the same flask that Sinister presented Selene with earlier, only now it was glowing ominously. Illyana trembled at the sight of the substance, struggling in vain to back away as the imposing figure opened it.
“With this sacrifice, Mount Anton shall reveal its treasures,” he proclaimed.
Illyana braced herself as Exodus poured the glowing substance onto her head. The moment it touched her, a new feeling overwhelmed her. Her mystical restraints dissolved and a mysterious red aura engulfed her body. It was like her flesh was being burned away and in its place there was only a blinding yellow ball of light. As Illyana Rasputin faded, she let out a cry that echoed through the entire mountain.
Nova Roma – Curia Senate Chamber
It seemed as though no matter what the circumstance, politics was a drag for the X-men. A lost colony of the Roman Republic was no different. As soon as the X-men entered the senate chamber, the debate began. There were a total of 30 senators they had to deal with. Lucius Aquilla led the charge with Charles Xavier, explaining to them the situation at hand. While any threat involving Selene was severe, a coordinated effort to confront her proved difficult.
“You’re asking an awful lot of us, Senator Aquilla,” said one of the senior senators, “First you allow a confessed traitor back into our city. Then you welcome these outsiders into this sacred chamber. You even have us speak their language just so we can accommodate their gaudy accusations.”
“With all due respect, my fellow senators, Selene Gallio is not a matter to be taken lightly,” retorted Lucius, “Some of you are old enough to remember the last time she threatened our city. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the kind of danger she poses.”
“The threat the Gallios pose is not in question here, Senator,” said another younger member of the senate, “You and these X-men are making the audacious claim that our mystics are incapable of dealing with it. Never mind the fact that they’ve succeeded in doing so for nearly two decades.”
“Please don’t misconstrue our words. We’re not questioning your capabilities. We’re merely asking for your help,” said Professor Xavier in a diplomatic tone.
“We have an army of mystics dedicated to keeping threats like Selene out. Their craft has been refined by generations of mystical knowledge,” another senator pointed out, “So far, none have reported no dire threats. So if they’re telling us all is well, why should we believe there is a crisis afoot?”
“Because we’re dealing with the Black Queen!” said Xavier in a stronger tone, “You may feel you have her under control, but I assure you from my own experience it is nothing short of reckless to underestimate her.”
“Are you insinuating that the republic of Nova Roma is reckless in safeguarding our people?” exclaimed another senator in utter outrage.
“No, I did not mean to…”
“You are already operating on hallowed ground, Charles Xavier,” the previous senator warned, “You may win sympathy from Senator Aquilla due to his personal struggles, but you will not sway us with baseless threats. We are a republic that has propagated for 2,000 years. You and your X-men will respect that or you will get no assistance from us!”
Professor Xavier was inclined to respond, but Senator Aquilla held him back. He was only digging a deeper hole for the both of them. He may have dealt with politicians in his world, but this was Nova Roma. The arrogance and pride of the Roman Republic was not an easy obstacle to navigate.
The Professor was growing frustrated and so was Senator Aquilla. They were in good company as the rest of the X-men watched from an observation area in the back of the chamber. It was not a very encouraging sight. As they debated, Selene was undoubtedly progressing on her end. With every minute that passed, their chances of gaining any level of cooperation from these people diminished.
“Is it always like zhis?” wondered Kurt, who was sitting with Margali and Shaman.
“More or less, I’m afraid,” said Margali, “Although this kind of hostility is reserved mostly for outsiders.”
“So if zhey despise our presence, vhy are ve even asking zhem for help?” he went on.
“You heard them mention it a number of times, Kurt. They have an army of mystics and generations of knowledge at their disposal,” Margali pointed out, “If we’re to stand a chance at stopping Selene, we need that kind of firepower. That same firepower could be used to help Amanda as well.”
“You’re assuming these admittedly arrogant people are willing to forget that little detail about you being a traitor,” said Shaman.
“I’m at the end of my rope, Shaman. I’m nearing the limit of everything I’ve learned,” she said sadly, “This is all I have left. I have no choice but to have faith in Nova Roma’s resources.”
“If faith is a last resort, zhen ve are in even more trouble zhan I thought,” said Kurt in a low tone, “Zhere comes a point vhen faith turns into a weakness rather zhen a strength. I fear ve have long since passed that point.”
Kurt’s outlook was hardly encouraging. He remained uninterested in the debate and focused on Amanda, who was lying on a small table in the back. She was still in a deep coma. Usually he was the one grasping onto faith and not Margali. It showed how these grim circumstances had affected them in recent times.
Rogue, who was sitting near Kurt, resisted the urge to try and smack some sense into her brother. His demeanor was almost as bad as this so-called debate. She and the rest of the X-men were supposed to stay completely silent. That made an already tenuous situation more unbearable because it meant they couldn’t stand up and support the Professor. Even though she hadn’t been an active X-man for a while, Rogue was as frustrated as everyone else.
“Ah hate this,” said Rogue, “It’s bad enough mah brother is annoying the hell outta me with his attitude. These Nova Roman jerk-offs almost make meh wanna root for Selene.”
“Remy’s gonna say that’s the politics talking,” said Remy, who was sitting next to her, “But if it be getting this bad maybe Remy should switch seats. It’s only a matter of time before you start takin’ it out on someone.”
“No Remy…Ah’d rather you not,” she said, grabbing onto his arm.
“You sure? Cause I ain’t in the mood to see you get all mopey again. We been down that road before. We can’t be headin’ that way with Selene working her mojo.”
“Ah’m trying, damn it! It’s just been hard…being away from the X-men and all,” she said.
“Well we here now. If you’re lookin’ for Remy to be cute like there ain’t nothin’ going on, you gonna be disappointed,” he told her, “I don’t care how much you got goin’ on, cherè. We got a crisis on our hands. You can either be part of it or keep bringin’ us down.”
Remy wasn’t usually this harsh with Rogue. She expected him to make another lame attempt to cheer her up or something. That didn’t happen. The situation was different. A lot of things were different since the last time their paths crossed. All the previous drama that had caused them so much strain now seemed trivial. Perhaps she needed someone to remind her what it meant to be an X-man.
Rogue looked around to see that the others weren’t doing a much better job with keeping their spirits up. This was especially true for Piotr, who had a lot more reasons to be upset with the lack of progress from these proceedings.
“This is taking too long,” said the Russian, seething with frustration, “They’re putting Illyana’s life in danger with each second they debate!”
“We’ll save her, Peter. With or without these A-holes,” assured Kitty.
“We may already be too late. Something terrible is happening to Illyana. I can feel it!”
“Try to leave the doomsaying to the real psychic, luv. If Selene was making her move, someone would sense it,” said Betsy.
“You’re not her brother,” Piotr reminded her.
“True, but I have a brother too and he’s been known to attract his share of trouble. I know what you’re going through. Not knowing what’s wrong always makes you assume the worst. You have to fight that.”
“Plus, if Selene really was doing something terrible to Illyana, she would be rubbing it in our faces already,” added Kitty.
Piotr shifted his gaze to the younger girl, who immediately regretted blurting out those words. But to her surprise, he did scowl her when everyone else probably would have. Oddly enough, he seemed to take comfort in her harsh words.
“You may be right, Katya,” he said, “My sister is a survivor. She’s endured having a pig-headed brother like me all these years.”
“She also has some firepower of her own if I recall,” said Betsy, “Perhaps she’s learned a few tricks to even the odds.”
“I can only hope. Even with my muscles, Illyana has always been the strongest of the Rasputin family.”
“If that’s not enough, you can also hope Kitty will say something stupid that will catch Selene off guard. Pushing peoples’ buttons seems to be her secondary mutation.”
“Keep giving me that look, Betsy. I blurt out say something about the looks you’re shooting Remy,” said Kitty bitterly, “Especially when he’s coddling with Rogue.”
Betsy smirked while Kitty focused her attention on Piotr. She still felt bad about her earlier remarks. Even if he wasn’t offended by her comments, he was someone she wanted to avoid offending. He was special in that he his skin wasn’t as thick as his powers implied.
If anyone was deserving of her harsh words, it was the Senate. They had since silenced Lucius Aquilla and Professor Xavier. Now they had to convene amongst themselves so they could weigh the merits of this issue. A number of them got up from their seats to discuss it within various groups. Amongst each senator, there were whispers and incoherent chatter. They continued to look at Charles Xavier and the X-men suspiciously. The presence of Margali Sefton didn’t help their case either. They tried guarding their thoughts, but it didn’t take a high level telepath to surmise their decision.
“This is turning into a huge waste of time. They’re not even trying to look serious,” said Jean, picking up on a few stray thoughts, “I don’t know if that makes them slightly less dishonest as politicians or just more callous.”
“Can we safely assume they won’t be offering any assistance?” asked Ororo.
“We’ll be lucky if they give us a map,” scoffed Jean, “They really don’t trust us. They’re almost as spooked by us as they are by Selene.”
“Could that be because the Seftons are with us?” Ororo surmised.
“I’m sure that’s part of it, but I sense there’s something else. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I think Senator Aquilla knows and isn’t telling us,” she said suspiciously.
“You probed his mind?”
“No, he just has a lousy poker face,” said Jean.
Ororo looked for herself. Lucius Aquilla certainly appeared to be in an awkward position. He was the only one struggling to maintain an aura of Roman pride. The rest of his fellow senators seemed pretty cynical of him and it clearly wasn’t because of his arguments either.
“Should we be concerned? It’s not like we had time to get the full story,” said Ororo.
“I don’t think it matters. These men have already made up their mind. So we have to save ourselves the trouble and make up ours,” said Scott, who wasn’t paying much attention to the debate.
“I’m sure you’ve been planning out battle tactics since we landed,” said Jean.
“Before that, actually,” said the X-leader, “I’ve have only three different strategies so far. None of them rely on help from the Nova Romans, but none of them give us any advantages either.”
“So what’s our best bet? Or do we not even have that?” asked Jean.
“Let’s just say if we can’t get at least some guidance from these people, we’ll be relying an awfully lot on blind luck.”
It was a distressing prospect. Even though the X-men were used to long odds, there were times when those odds caught up to them. This looked to be one of those times when the risk was too great.
“If that’s the case, then our luck had better change soon,” said Ororo as chatter amongst the senators intensified.
“I wouldn’t bet on it. This may be another case where the X-men will have to pull one out of the fire,” said Scott grimly.
“Can’t say I’m surprised,” sighed Jean, “It seems our luck only extends to a select few.”
“How do you figure?” asked the X-leader.
“Look to your right and see how Bobby is making friends with the senator’s daughter. That may make him the luckiest X-man at the moment.”
Scott turned to see what Jean was referring to. Ororo checked as well and sure enough, Bobby was looking a much more comfortable than the rest of them sitting next to Amara. He still hadn’t gotten over seeing her naked earlier. That immaturity of his was a luxury at times like this because it allowed him to stay distracted.
Bobby didn’t even try to follow the political discourse. Everyone else may have forgotten about seeing a beautiful blond standing naked under a fountain, but he sure hadn’t. Because of this, Amara Aquilla naturally drew his interest. She did appear conflicted though. Much of it was centered on her father though. While it was hard to look at her without thinking about her being naked, he managed bring raise the issue.
“So uh…your dad is making this personal, huh? Way more than the rest of these old-timers anyways,” he said.
“You outsiders,” scoffed Amara, “Every time you visit, you’re so aghast at the sight of naked bodies. Why do you feel the need to act so foolishly in order to cope?”
“What? No, this isn’t coping. This is uh…me being curious,” said Bobby, trying hard not to sound too goofy, “I’m over the whole naked thing…mostly anyways.”
“Your voice deceive your words. I still feel you undressing me with your eyes,” she said with a coy grin.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but can we get off the subject of nudity already? I get it. You Romans aren’t as uptight as us prudish outsiders. Now are you going to answer my question? Because you’re giving me the impression that it’s a touchy subject.”
Bobby’s demeanor still didn’t come off as serious, casting further doubt on his maturity. He was probably the least serious person in this chamber at the moment. For that reason, Amara responded in ways that went against traditions of Roman pride.
“My father likes to make everything personal,” she said, “Despite a Nova Roman Senator’s obligation to be objective, he can’t resist throwing a little sentiment into his outrage.”
“Is that just how he is or does he have other reasons? Based on his reaction, I’m guessing it’s an ongoing issue.”
Amara shifted uncomfortably. Bobby Drake may have been immature, but he was quite perceptive.
“So you do have a capacity to reason beyond the novelty of nudity,” she conceded.
“You’re still avoiding it,” Bobby pointed out.
“I don’t intend to continue. These issues as you call them have always been a work-in-progress. To the unenlightened observer, it’s a typical struggle of upper-class families. You have an accomplished senator with only one child to his legacy. His wife dies before she has a chance to really raise that child so he does his best to compensate.”
“Wait, back up…your mom died?” said Bobby, feeling as though she glossed over that.
“Are you expecting me to burst into tears?” she retorted dryly, “Sorry, but that would imply I even knew the woman. I never had the chance to shed a single tear for her because my father always kept me busy. His solution to our problems was to mold me like so many other senators try to mold their children. He sends me to all the best schools in Nova Roma, hoping to teach me everything about everything.”
“That would explain why you’re by far the most articulate teenage girl I’ve come across,” commented Bobby, “You sound so sophisticated for someone so comfortable walking around naked.”
“I’m not sure if I should take that as a compliment, but being sophisticated is all I know. It’s all my father wants me to know,” said Amara bitterly, “As if it will somehow mask the inconvenient truth he works so hard to ignore.”
“And what truth is that? It can’t be because you have a wild side.”
“You think my desire to experience the simpler pleasures in life don’t cause conflict? Did you not process my father’s outrage?”
“There it is again. You’re dodging the issue,” he retorted, “Now I’m really interested.”
“Why? There’s nothing to be interested in,” said Amara, getting a bit defensive, “Nothing beyond the immature sensibilities of you outsiders.”
“Not to steal your line, but your voice deceives your words,” retorted Bobby with a wry grin, “I may be an immature guy whose main goal in life is to see pretty girls naked, but there are other things that interest me. There’s something else going on here that nobody is telling us. Since my friends and I are trying to help you fight off Selene, I think we have a right to know.”
Now Amara was getting really uncomfortable. This outsider, who had to be the least mature member of this team, was getting under her skin. She tried to keep her gaze locked on her father and the rest of the Senate, but she couldn’t escape Bobby Drake’s scrutiny.
As the discomfort continued, Amara began feeling these strange sensations. Her skin started burning, sweat began beading up on her face, and the air around her grew hot and noxious. Either Bobby had struck a very sensitive chord or there were other forces at work here. There were only so possibilities and a few in particular only added to Amara’s distress.
‘No…not now! Why now?’
While this was unfolding, the Senate finished debating. Professor Xavier and Lucius Aquilla were still waiting for their decision. They stood anxiously as one of the senatorial aides stepped up to address them.
“Senator Aquilla, I believe the Senate has reached a conclusion,” the aide announced, “If it would please you and your associates, I will summarize the decision for our scribes to record.”
“Proceed,” said Senator Aquilla, trying to hide his bitterness, “Let’s get this over with.”
“Very well,” the aide said as he took a deep breath, “It is the decision of this institution, by the authority of the Republic of Nova Roma, that the requests and accusations presented involving the exiled fugitive, Selene Gallio, account to an act of perjury.”
“Perjury?” exclaimed Xavier, “You can’t be…”
“Don’t say anything, Professor. You’ll only make it worse,” said Lucius, holding him back despite his own anger.
“Your disrespect for this institution and its ability to defend against outdated threats is without excuse,” the aide continued, “You’ve also shown an inclination to abuse your power. You allowed one, Margali Sefton, to return to our sacred city despite a standing conviction of treason. You allowed a group of outsiders, the X-men, to enter our boarders without consultation. While power you exercised was within the bounds of our law, it was still exercised recklessly and in a manner determined to be detrimental to Nova Roma.”
Senator Aquilla was fuming. He fought the urge lash out at his fellow senators for this horrendous decision. He was so caught up in this proceeding that he didn’t notice what was happening to his daughter.
All eyes were on the Senate now. Only Bobby noticed that something was very wrong with Amara. She had gone from looking uncomfortable to looking downright sick.
“Uh…are you okay, Amara? Did I go way overboard or something?” he asked her warily.
“Hnn…so hot,” she gasped.
As she said this, her eyes shifted color to a fiery red. The heat that was making her so uncomfortable that it started to radiated beyond her body. It didn’t take long for Bobby to start feeling it as well.
“Ooh boy, no way that’s just innuendo,” he said.
The heat around her kept building. But as it grew, the aide kept talking as if nothing was amiss.
“For these reasons and a documented history of allowing personal affairs to interfere with your objective duties, the Senate shall hand down the following decrees. Senator Aquilla, you are hereby stripped of your title and your duties to this institution. Professor Charles Xavier, you and your X-men are to leave with the Seftons this instant. You are to vacate this city within the hour willingly or you will be forcibly removed by the Praetorian Guard. And as for the so-called threat posed by Selene Gallio…”
“THE FIRE! IT’S GOING TO-AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
The cries of Amara Aquilla silenced the aide before he could finish handing down his sentence. In an instant the politics were shattered by a powerful outburst from the young woman. The heat that had been building around her body erupted into bright burst of flames, which quickly filled the chamber with a dense heat. The X-men and the senators were all caught off guard. Only Lucius Aquilla seemed to know what was going on.
“Amara! Why is this happening now?” he cried out.
“Whoa…I’m guessing this isn’t part of the sentence,” commented Kitty.
“The mountain…it’s calling me,” said Amara in a strange tone.
“Lucius! This better not be what I suspect it is,” exclaimed one of the senators.
Before Lucius could explain himself, Amara let out another burst that sent hot shockwaves throughout the chamber. In the midst of these shockwaves, Amara shot up as if launched by a rocket. When she struck the chamber walls she was radiating so much heat that the stone melted. It didn’t stop with just one wall either. Amara kept going, flying at high speeds through the heavily reinforced walls behind it and blowing similarly sized holes in her wake.
Within seconds, she carved a clean tunnel through the halls of the Curia and burst out into the hot tropical air. Now there was a straight path from the chamber directly to an ominous scene that was unfolding in the distance.
“Okay…anybody wanna to explain what the hell that was?” exclaimed Rogue.
“First she’s naked and then she explodes. What else are you people keeping from us?” demanded Scott.
“As much as I would like an explanation, I have a gut feeling this wasn’t some random spectacle,” said Shaman.
“You don’t know the half of it,” said Margali, who had a faint idea of what was going on.
But before any explanation could be offered, Professor Xavier and Lucius Aquilla gazed out through the newly created tunnel. The rest of the Nova Roman Senate joined them. Through this newly created window to the outside, they had a clear view of Mount Anton in the distance. What they saw was as ominous as it was terrifying.
“By the gods!” many of them gasped.
A dark cloud was forming over the peak of the mountain. From this cloud, a bright reddish light was growing. It looked like lava mixed with lightning. It was clearly not natural, bearing the unmistakable aura of potent magic. Someone or something was guiding it and only one person was powerful enough to do something this sinister. The stakes now raised, Charles Xavier turned to address the Senate.
“Esteemed gentleman of the Senate, I move that you reassess your decision,” Xavier told them, “You want proof that Selene Gallio is a clear and present danger. For your consideration, I present to you your proof. Now will you help us?”
Next Issue: Civilization No Longer Lost Part 3
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