In a world that hates and fears them, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men use their mutant powers to fight for peace and understanding. But within that world are challenges that go beyond human/mutant relations. Some extend into the realm of the supernatural.
While the X-men are no strangers to magic, they have never faced what the Black Queen has unleashed. Using a vast array of mystical rituals along with help from Sinister and his Marauders, she seeks the Blood Stone of Set. This powerful relic is protected by Mount Anton, a landmark that has protected the hidden city of Nova Roma for centuries. Selene believes it is her destiny to possess the Blood Stone and she is willing to pay any price to attain it. This includes innocent lives and that of Colossus’ sister, Illyana.
For a moment the Black Queen had the Blood Stone in her grasp. She was able to subdue the X-men and complete the ritual that extracted the stone from the mountain. Then Wolverine showed up, cut off Selene’s arm, and sent everything into chaos. Now the Blood Stone has ruptured and it threatens the entire city of Nova Roma and beyond.
Mount Anton – Western Slopes
‘This is NOT a good use of my powers. If I survive this, Cyclops owes me two pizzas and the use of his car for a whole week.’
Bobby Drake had many reasons to be frustrated. While the rest of the X-men were fighting the Black Queen and Sinister’s Marauders, he was tasked with scaling Mount Anton and locating Amara Aquilla. On the surface, it sounded like a good deal. He didn’t have to face a psycho geneticist and an evil magic-wielding psycho bitch. But the more he searched, the more he started seeing the downside.
Searching for a lone girl atop a massive mountain was harder than it sounded. On top of that, Amara Aquilla’s suppressed mutant abilities were making their battle against Selene more difficult. As soon as she hit the mountain in her new fiery form, waves of lava flows burst out from the rocks. They were accompanied with a string of volcanic gases and deadly rockslides. This along with the dark clouds forming near the summit made it painfully clear that finding this pretty girl was going to be a challenge.
“Okay…a hot blond covered in fire shouldn’t be hard to see in this mess,” he mused, “So long as I keep my literal cool, I’ll avoid getting roasted. If only I had the slightest idea of what I was searching for.”
The search wasn’t easy to say the least. In order to guard against the heat, Iceman used his powers to maintain an ice shell around his body. He also had to cover a lot of ground, forming a string of ice slides that carried him across the slopes of the mountain. He followed the source of the lava flows and focused on the biggest. In his experience the worst conditions offered led to the source of the problem.
“Amara! Can you hear me?” he called out as he passed over a thick lava flow, “Uh…if you can, could you give me a sign? Like a message in the lava entrails or something?”
It sounded even more foolish when he said it out loud. It demonstrated just how desperate he was at this point. As he wandered aimlessly, his friends were fighting against Selene and Sinister. A few minutes ago, the activity on the mountain got really bad. Something must have happened in that battle. The tremors were getting stronger, the clouds were getting thicker, and the magma bursts were erupting with greater ferocity. At times he had to maneuver around spewing lava geysers. It was getting a lot harder to keep his ice shield up and he was close to concluding that this search as a waste of time.
‘Iceman! Iceman, can you hear me?’
The unmistakable voice of Jean Grey echoed in Iceman’s head. Hoping to get a badly needed update, he passed over a particularly large pool of lava and settled into a stable hover.
‘Talk to me, Phoenix. What’s the word on Selene’s End-of-the-World party down there?’
‘Not good…even more not good than we thought. Wolverine showed up and stopped Selene’s ritual, but that only triggered an even bigger problem.’
‘Bigger than Selene? Do I even WANT to know the details?’
‘I couldn’t tell you if I knew them. All I can say is it’s getting a lot crazier down there and we need your help!’
‘You want me to call off my search for a hot blond and link up with the team? I know that sounds like an unreasonable request, but I’m finding nothing up here.’
‘Well before you head down, see if you can buy us some time. Those lava flows are getting uncomfortably close. Is there any chance you can slow it down?’
Looking around at this mountain, even he wasn’t cool enough to take all this heat. It was hard enough keeping himself from getting burned. Conjuring up enough cold to slow a volcanic eruption was not something he had ever tried before. Gazing down at the nearby pool of lava, Iceman wasn’t sure he could give his friends what they needed.
He was about to respond to Phoenix. Then he noticed something within the pool of lava below. A strange pattern emerged from a fissure. It didn’t look natural. Some of the dark rocks formed shapes and patterns resembling a human hand. Upon taking a closer look, he was able to make out a human figure.
“Well I’ll be damned. Guess she heard me after all,” grinned Iceman.
In his head, Phoenix’s telepathic voice grew more urgent.
‘Iceman! Bobby, are you still there?’
‘I’m still here, Phoenix. And I think I may have found something. If I’m right, we may be able to take these lava flows out of the equation.’
‘What do you mean? Did you find Amara?’
‘If I show up with a hot girl in my arms, you’ll get your answer.’
Iceman closed off his mind so he could focus on the figure in the lava lake.
“This is going to suck on way too many levels,” he groaned.
Summoning the full force of his powers, Iceman generated as much cold as he could. He then diverted his ice slide and made his way into the heart of the lava lake. More fiery geysers shot out. He skillfully avoided them despite feeling the punishing heat. As he got closer, his ice shell rapidly melted. It melted so fast at times that it practically boiled off. Despite the danger, he closed in on the figure in the pool of lava.
“Amara!” he yelled out.
From the lava pool, a figure reached out in a desperate gesture.
“Bobby Drake? Is…is that you?”
“Who else is cool enough to get this close?” he retorted, “Hang on! I’ll get you out of there.”
“The mountain…it has me. The fires of Hades…consuming me.”
“I’m sure those fires are heart, but I need you to be strong and fight them for me!.Use your powers! You control them…not the mountain!.
“Don’t over think it. Just focus on seizing control and reaching out to me. I’ll be there to pull you out. I promise,” he told her.
There was a brief silence. The Nova Roman teenager had little reason to trust an outsider like him, but he was willing to brave these flames for her. He was her only hope. She had no choice but to trust him. From the fiery pit, Amara’s desperate voice rang out.
A few more lava geysers shot up, which Iceman surmised was where Amara was trapped. He focused on that area despite the danger, hedging all his hopes on Amara’s ability to be stronger than a typical spoiled rich girl.
Despite his ice shell nearly being burned off, he maneuvered closer to the lava so that he was just a few feet above it. It was so hot his ice slides evaporated within seconds of him passing over them. He was heading to the very heart of the bubbling pool, keeping an eye out for Amara. The powerful bursts of lava indicated she was fighting the influence of the mountain, but struggling mightily. Trusting that she would overcome years of having her mutation suppressed up by magic, he prepared to react at the last possible moment.
He was near the center of the lava pool when he finally saw her. The faint outline of a feminine figure emerged from the molten pit. She wasn’t even halfway out. Only her arm and head showed. Upon seeing this, Iceman reached out to her grasp her hand. The moment they touched, her fire reacted with his ice and a burst of steam shot out.
“I’ve got you!” yelled Iceman once he had a strong grip on her.
Summoning all his strength, Iceman pulled Amara out of the molten lake. The mountain didn’t give her up easily. Some of the rock solidified around her body. However, it wasn’t enough. Iceman literally ripped her out from the rock, pulling her fiery body free from the lava.
As soon as Amara was free, Iceman redirected his ice slide and escaped as fast as he could with Amara securely in his arms. The moment she left the mountain, the lava flows slowed down. Some even stopped entirely. By the time he was a few hundred feet away, he was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
In addition, his cooling touch tempered the heat that had consumed Amara. Her fiery body faded and she returned to her fleshly form. However, her earlier outburst also had the effect of burning away her clothes so by the time Iceman took her in his arms, she was completely naked again.
“Hnn…Bobby,” Amara said in a daze.
“Uh…hello again,” he said awkwardly.
“You…saved me,” she smiled, “Yet you’re still staring.”
“Sorry,” said Iceman sheepishly, “It’s not every day you rescue a beautiful naked woman.”
“Did I say I minded?”
Now Iceman felt more awkward, but Amara didn’t hold it against him. She kept smiling and clung to his cool embrace. It was a nice feeling in the midst of all this chaos, his cooling touch balancing out her chaotic heat. Iceman smiled back, holding her closely as he descended the mountain on his ice slide.
“I’ll recoup my dignity later,” he told her, “Right now, it looks like the mountain is settling down. Let’s go find the others and help them finish the job!”
Mount Anton – Base
Destiny had once again failed Selene Gallio. And just like before, her ritual had gone horribly wrong because of the X-men. The Blood Stone of Set was rupturing. The portal to the aether was destabilizing. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. Now there was nothing she could do to stop the chaos.
“The presence of blood has destroyed the vital balance of the ritual. Now the Blood Stone and the aether will consume us all!” exclaimed the Black Queen.
“I didn’t understand half the shit you said, lady. But I’m pretty damn sure this is still your fault,” barked Wolverine.
With each new crack in the Blood Stone of Set, the portal fluctuated erratically. A bright column of white light erupted from the center of the array, releasing shockwaves that overwhelmed both the X-men and the Marauders. The amplifiers that Sinister configured earlier had been completely shorted out. The light was so bright it burst through the black clouds hovering the peak of the mountain. It was an ominous display of power that grew more destructive by the second.
Sinister remained face down on the ground, still paralyzed from the paralysis disk that Shadowcat threw on him earlier. The rest of his Marauders rushed to join him with the exception of Sabretooth, who was still lying unconscious atop a busted amplifier. Blockbuster, Arclight, Harpoon, and Riptide went to assist Sinister while Vulcan helped Madelyne recover from the shot she took from Wolverine. When she saw what was going on, she knew how bad this was.
“Please tell me Selene is exaggerating,” said Vulcan, “There must be a way to shut that portal down!”
“There isn’t,” said the Goblin Queen flatly, “Power like the Blood Stone can either be unleashed or contained. It can’t be shut down.”
“In other words we’re all screwed?”
“Literally, figuratively, and mystically,” she affirmed.
While the Marauders dreaded the growing chaos, Wolverine met up with Phoenix who was now free from her cousin’s Goblin attack. Together, they helped Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Colossus. The Russian mutant was still paralyzed from the disk Sinister put on his forehead earlier and Nightcrawler was still dazed after the Pandora Collector blew up in his hand. They helped them get moving again so they could meet up with the rest of the X-men, who also had their share of injuries. Cyclops needed help to get back on his feet and Psylocke had to help both Storm and Gambit pull out some of Riptide’s boney spikes. They were in no condition to continue fighting, but fighting didn’t seem necessary at this point.
“Good heavens!” gasped Storm as she looked up at the column of light.
“Selene really done messed up this time,” groaned Gambit.
“Kurt, you’re the magic expert here. Exactly how screwed are we?” asked Psylocke.
“More zhan I care to measure,” said Nightcrawler as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.
“So what do we do?” exclaimed Rogue, “Cyclops, if you’ve got a Plan B, now would be the time to use it.”
“Sorry Rogue, but I’m a little concussed and at a hell of a loss here,” groaned Cyclops, who was leaning on her for support, “What about the Phoenix Force? Can she pull us out of this?”
“A fully powered Phoenix Force could,” said Phoenix as she looked up at the column of light, “But in her current state…”
“I regret to say I’m equally powerless. My embers are too small and my knowledge too limited. There’s nothing the power of the cosmos can do.”
The X-men were in even worse shape than they thought. There was no contingency plan or new battle tactic. They were standing face to face with total destruction and there was no way to stop it.
“So the world is gonna end by magic, eh?” said Wolverine, “And me without a bottle of Jack Daniels.”
“At this point we’ll need more than the forces of nature to stop it,” dreaded Storm.
“Ah’m with Logan. Ah prefer the Jack Daniels and a cigarette,” muttered Rogue.
“Come on, you guys! We can’t just assume this is over,” said Shadowcat, still struggling to get the disk off Colossus’s forehead, “There has to be some other way. This is magic for crying out loud! The impossible isn’t supposed to apply here.”
“It has nothing to do vith vhat’s impossible, Kitty,” said Nightcrawler, looking increasingly distressed, “Zhere is no vay to stop something like zhis vithout…”
The German mutant’s words unexpectedly trailed off. Now he didn’t just look distressed. He looked sick. He clutched his head and keeled over, nearly falling flat on his back before Wolverine and Phoenix caught him.
“Without what?” exclaimed Phoenix.
“Come on, Elf! Now ain’t the time to have a seizure,” grunted Wolverine.
“It…it’s not possible,” he said distantly.
“Dang, the poor homme sounds like he just ate some bad gumbo,” said Gambit.
“Nien. It’s Amanda! She…”
Before Nightcrawler could explain, the X-men were surprised by another mysterious burst of light. It appeared right in front of Nightcrawler and took the form of a green mist. It swirled and glowed in a series of distinct patterns. These patterns were shaped and reshaped by unseen forces until they took the distinct form of Amanda Sefton.
“Whoa…now I know I’m concussed,” said Cyclops in a daze.
“Kurt…mind explaining?” exclaimed Rogue.
“I…I zhink it’s Amanda. Vell…her spirit anyways,” said Nightcrawler in a daze.
“Your mystical knowledge is a bit rusty, Kurt,” said the glowing figure, “Astral projection is a trick every mystic learns before they hit puberty. Sometimes it’s difficult when your body is in a coma. It’s more difficult NOT to attain when you feel your loved ones in danger.”
Nightcrawler’s distress turned to relief. He could literally feel her love through her spirit. He reached out to touch her glowing form, feeling a powerful warmth from her presence. The rest of the X-men were too shocked to be comforted. They were still trying to make sense of Selene’s now defunct ritual.
“Mutants, aliens, and now ghosts…I think it’s safe to say I’ve seen everything,” said Psylocke.
“You’ll get to see a lot more, X-men. As someone who was born in the shadow of this mountain, I can feel the chaos erupting within. Selene was brazen in her efforts to usurp its power. She thinks she understands it, but her ego is more extensive than her knowledge.”
“So…there is a way to stop this?” asked Storm.
“That depends. You see, there is a step in this ritual that you didn’t witness. It involved Illyana Rasputin and her talents for transporting herself in and out of mystical realms.”
The mention of Illyana roused Colossus, who had been fighting off Sinister’s paralysis. Shadowcat had just managed to loosen it enough with her phasing powers. A fresh burst of strength from the Russian mutant was enough to cripple it and renew his mobility.
“Illyana? You know where she is?” he exclaimed.
“Yes, and I know she’s okay…in a manner of speaking.”
“Even if you are a spirit, I’m not liking your choice of words,” said Shadowcat.
“She’s still alive, but her state is dire. Selene used a spell that locked her between realms. In doing so she created a rip that allows the power within Mount Anton to erupt. This is what is fueling Selene’s ritual. If it were to be cut off, then the ritual will burn out.”
“So if ve rescue Illyana, Selene’s ritual vill end and Nova Roma vill be saved?” Nightcrawler surmised.
“Precisely! I can feel her presence at the summit of the mountain. She can still be reached and I can help you.”
“That’s all I need to know,” said Colossus strongly.
The promise of rescuing his sister and saving Nova Roma overwrote any desire to make Selene suffer. Illyana’s safety was still his primary concern. The Russian turned to Jean Grey, who was still in fighting condition.
“Phoenix, can you fly me up to the peak of that mountain with your telekinesis?” he asked her.
“I would warn you about it being a bumpy ride, but somehow I doubt you’ll care,” said Phoenix.
Colossus was not going to be dissuaded. He would climb this mountain with his bare hands if he had to. Phoenix might as well save him the trouble. Before he began his ascent though, Shadowcat tugged on his shoulder to address him.
“Hold on for a sec, Peter,” she said.
“You’re not going to try and stop me. Are you, Kitty?” said the Russian sternly.
“Of course not. I just wanted to do this.”
Then in a gesture that surprised more than just Colossus, Shadowcat gave him a kiss on his metal cheek. The Russian mutant was caught completely off guard. Colossus’s expression went from determined to shocked, which earned him some funny looks from the others.
“Be careful up there,” Shadowcat told him.
“I uh…I will,” said Colossus, sounding more awkward than a man of his stature should.
“And now he has that much more incentive,” said Wolverine.
Before they all got too distracted, Phoenix levitated herself and Colossus. This caught him a bit off guard again, but he refocused his efforts on saving Illyana.
“Let’s go, farm boy. I’m sure you’ll want to tell your sister all about this after you save her,” grinned Phoenix.
“We shall see,” said the Russian.
The young psychic used the Phoenix Force to accelerate their ascent. They would have to brave the thick clouds and the noxious gases from the erupting mountain. Somewhere in the middle of all this was Illyana Rasputin and by saving her, they could stop this madness once and for all.
The rest of the X-men watched as Phoenix and Colossus disappeared into the sky. Amanda’s spirit form disappeared as well, turning back into a greenish mist and flying up after them. All was not lost. They could still stop Selene and save Illyana. Watching Shadowcat share a little moment with Colossus was a nice bonus as well.
“Anybody makes an joke here and I’ll phase you to the center of the Earth,” threatened Shadowcat.
“You expect us to let it go just because we’re standing at the base of an erupting volcano?” said Psylocke in a humored tone
“You can make as big a deal about it as you once the world isn’t going to hell on the back of Selene’s latest screw-up,” she replied, “So let’s table my love life for the moment and pray this works.”
Mount Anton – Summit
The ascent to the top of Mount Anton was turbulent. Even with the cosmic flames of the Phoenix Force, she and Colossus navigated through tumultuous and terrifying obstacles. The steep slopes of the mountain were still spewing lava, although the flow had slowed somewhat. Phoenix suspected it might be because of something Iceman was doing on his end. Even without the lava, the dark clouds were a daunting obstacle. Flashing lightning and powerful wind shears nearly knocked them off course. One nearly caused Phoenix to nearly drop Colossus from her telekinetic grip.
“Whoa! Sorry about that,” said Phoenix, trying hard to concentrate.
“Do not concern yourself with my safety, Phoenix. I can take whatever punishment this mountain can throw at me,” yelled Colossus.
“You may have to take more than that because I’m sensing some disturbances other than the mountain.”
Phoenix didn’t elaborate and Colossus didn’t care to know. He continued holding on tight, watching as lightning bolts flashed within inches of his metal skin. They eventually emerged from the thickest parts of the clouds. Up ahead, he saw a bright yellow light that bore the distinct hue that consumed Illyana when she used her powers. This light had turned into a strange glowing mass from which all this chaos was erupting. It seemed to be the most likely area where they would find Illyana.
“I see it! That must be the rip Amanda mentioned,” Colossus yelled out.
“I see it too!” said Phoenix, “Hold on while I…”
Suddenly, the young psychic was silenced by the Exodus, who had been watching over this rip since the beginning. When he saw Phoenix coming in, he flew up from his observation position and struck her in full force.
“HALT!” he bellowed, “You will not disrupt the ritual.”
When Exodus hit Phoenix, he jarred Colossus from her grip. The metal-skinned mutant tumbled to the rocky ground below, doing a number of awkward summersaults along the way. Phoenix had to redirect her telekinesis and the cosmic flames around her to prevent Exodus from doing much damage. He ended up driving hundreds of feet into the air, pushing her away from the summit.
“You denied me the truth before. Now that Mistress Selene has imparted vital clues to my past, I will protect her destiny to the death!” exclaimed Exodus.
“So that was the disturbance,” she grunted, “Looks like I’ll have to baby-sit this brute for you, Colossus!”
“Do what you must, Phoenix. I can make it the rest of the way,” said a determined Colossus.
Ignoring the soreness, the tremors, and the dark clouds the Russian mutant braved the rugged terrain. He gritted his teeth, moving closer to the glowing mass. He could feel Illyana’s presence. He refused to let her down. Neither Selene nor this mountain would keep him from his sister.
“I’m coming…Illyana,” he grunted, “Big brother…is on his way.”
Inch by inch, he climbed. By the time he reached the glowing mass, it looked ready to explode. There was no detectable human presence, but Colossus knew his sister was in there. Once he was close enough, Amanda’s spirit appeared in front of him. Her misty form looked a lot more scattered in this chaotic environment.
“Hold on, Colossus. Do not take another step,” her spirit told him.
“Please…I must get to my sister. Do not tell me…to prolong her agony,” he urged.
“You won’t. I promise. But if you try to rescue her now, you’ll be in worse shape than her. If you’re going to save her, you’ll have to trust me.”
“Since my choices are so limited, I am guessing I must,” the Russian surmised.
“Fair warning though…what I’m about to do is something that I haven’t studied for. I’m going to use my spirit form to stabilize the rip. In theory, it should allow Illyana to settle just enough for you to free her. I can’t make any guarantees. If my mother were here, she would chide me for even thinking this would work.”
“You do what you must do and so will I. I care not for risk at this point.”
“That makes two of us.”
Colossus didn’t need much convincing. Amanda didn’t waste any more time warning him of the dangers. Nothing was going to keep him from his sister. That was strong enough motivation for the both of them.
“Get ready to use every bit of strength you have. The moment you see Illyana reform, reach in and pull her out.”
“I understand,” said Colossus, “I assure you strength will not be an issue.”
Taking him on his word, Amanda’s spiritual form grew brighter and dissolved into a glowing green mist. It was so bright Colossus had to guard his eyes. While in this glowing form, the spiritual mist swirled around the yellow mass at the summit. It was steady at first. Then the mist grew, engulfing the yellow mass in a globular haze. As this unfolded, the dark clouds spewing from the mass became less volatile. The area around the rip became clearer, allowing Colossus to move in closer.
From the greenish yellow mass, a series of shapes emerged that resembled a human figure. It was hard to make out if that figure was Illyana. For all he knew it was just his eyes playing tricks on him. Then through he heard a desperate voice.
The Russian mutant gasped. It was Illyana. She was still alive. Summoning the full extent of his strength, he reached into the greenish yellow ball.
“I’m here, Illyana! Take my hand!”
The moment he thrust his hand into the light, it felt like molten rock was being poured on his arm. Were he not in his metal form, it would have been burned off cleanly. He reached with all his might, using his other arm to grasp a nearby rock. At first he felt nothing. Then the figure took on a more flesh and blood form. This shift wasn’t even complete when she reached out and grasped his hand.
“Do it, Colossus. Pull!” yelled Amanda from within the light.
“I…have you…my sister,” grunted the Russian.
The veins in his metal form bulged and the rocks he was gripping fractured. It was like trying to pull his sister from the grip of the mountain itself. He kept pulling, not even watching as his sister’s body emerged from the greenish light. It wasn’t until she was back in her flesh-and-blood form that she was finally free.
But there was no time to feel relief. The moment Illyana was separated from the glowing light, the whole mountain underwent a dramatic shift.
“The mountain…its power has been severed,” said Amanda Sefton, her voice now echoing all throughout the structure. ‘We must leave now! This is dangerous, even for a spirit.’
Colossus instinctively cradled his sister in his arms and ran away from the glowing light as fast as his legs would take him. As he ran, Amanda’s glowing spirit shot out from the unstable rip. The moment she left, the now powerless gateway closed rapidly. In the process, it unleashed a blinding beam of light into the clouds that swiftly broke them up. It was like all the chaos was being forced back into the source.
As the clouds reversed course, Exodus took notice. He and Phoenix had been locked into a struggle of strength versus telekinesis. The moment he saw the change in his surroundings, he shoved Phoenix aside and flew back down towards the summit.
“NO! The ritual…it cannot be stopped!” he exclaimed.
“Come back here!” yelled Phoenix, trying to retrieve him with her telekinesis, “Since when does Selene hire cowards?”
Exodus ignored her, flying full speed towards the closing rip. With reckless abandoned, he plunged into the fading light along with the trail of dark clouds. Once fully immersed in the fading light, the powerful figure faded.
“I will not fail. I mustn’t!” Exodus’s voice rang out, “Please…don’t leave me again…master.”
His voice echoed through the rip as the dark clouds were sucked away. Once the last vestige of chaos was gone, the glowing ball of light faded and Exodus disappeared with it. Once the clouds dissipated, the late afternoon sun was shining again. It left nothing by a featureless summit of a mountain now devoid of its power.
“Whoa. It’s all gone,” mused Phoenix.
“The power I sensed earlier…it’s gone too.”
“What about Exodus? What the hell was babbling about?” she wondered, “I thought I sensed something different in his mind. He sounded crazy, but it was a clear sort of crazy.”
“I suppose we’ll never know.”
With the sun now shining and the skies now clear, everything finally settled down. It came as a great relief to Colossus, who was still protectively cradling his sister in his arms. She looked tired and dazed, still wearing the dirty clothes she had been wearing at the Sefton’s house. Looking up at her brother, she smiled. She knew she was safe now.
“I knew you would come, Piotr. You always do,” she told him.
“Of course, Illyana,” he said affectionately, “I made you a promise. After breaking so many over the years, I will keep the precious few that remain.”
“However few there are, Mama and Papa would be proud,” she said.
Her tender words brought a warm smile to the usually stoic Piotr Rasputin. He had done some terrible deeds in the past, crossing so many lines in the name of protecting what little innocence his family had left. For his sister to see beyond those deeds meant a lot to him and gave him all the more reason to keep his promises moving forward.
The two siblings shared a joyous hug while Phoenix flew down to join them. She smiled at the scene and did a quick telepathic scan to assess the situation. The lack of tremors was a reassuring sign, but what she sensed offered plenty more.
“Is it over now?” asked Illyana, “Please tell me we can wake up from this nightmare.”
“I believe it is, Snowflake,” said Colossus, “We cut off Selene’s source of the power. It should all be ending as we speak.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, Colossus,” said Phoenix, sensing a few other anomalies with her telepathy.
“What do you mean? Is there another reason for us to worry?” asked the Russian.
“Not necessarily,” she said cryptically, “Let’s just say that tying up the remaining loose ends might get a bit messy.”
“THIS CAN’T HAPPEN! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE! THIS ISN’T MY DESTINY!”
The frantic voice of Selene Gallio was filled with dread. Her ritual had failed. Her destiny had betrayed her. In addition, her arm had been severed by Wolverine. She was still bleeding profusely, kneeling before the pulsating column of light engulfing the fracturing Blood Stone of Set. It looked ready to shatter as it underwent one last major shift.
The once expanding column of light became more concentrated as it reversed course. The dark clouds that were emanating from the peak of Mount Anton faded. The energy that had been flowing from the mountain was cut off. As a result, the column of light narrowed, turning into a large glowing purple sphere with the Blood Stone in the center. From this sphere, a dark hand-like mist reached out and grabbed the wounded Selene.
Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, Gambit, and Psylocke kept their distance from the mystical array. It still wasn’t clear if what was happening with Selene was a good or bad sign, but all they could do at this point was let it unfold.
“Anyone want to guess what’s happening now?” wondered Shadowcat.
“It looks like something out of those creepy Saw movies,” said Psylocke.
“You’re the only magic man among us, Nightcrawler. Give us some spoilers if you can,” said Cyclops
“It vould seem zhat Phoenix and Colossus were successful. The mountain is no longer fueling this malevolent power. In fact, I zhink the mountain no longer has any power,” said Nightcrawler.
“So why does Selene still believe we’ve destroyed everything?” asked Storm anxiously.
“Could she be overreacting? Like some magic powered PMS?” asked Wolverine.
“I don’t zhink its zhat bad, Wolverine,” said Nightcrawler, “Taking into account zhe Black Queen’s ego, destroying everything to her may just mean destroying zhis destiny of hers.”
“In other words, the world ain’t ending. Only her world is ending,” surmised Rogue smugly.
“Well then why don’t we just sit back and enjoy the show?” suggested Gambit.
There was nothing more they could do for her. The dark mist that grabbed Selene began pulling her into the dark purple sphere. She struggled helplessly against the dark mist. The strength that once made her the Black Queen was failing fast.
“NO! NOT LIKE THIS! NOT MY BLOOD! NOT MY…”
Her cries were muffled as the dark mist eventually pulled her into the glowing sphere. It absorbed her, disintegrating the very flesh from her body. She kept reaching out with her remaining arm as her figure slowly disappeared. As she was consumed Madelyne, Sinister, and the Marauders watched in horror.
“My Mistress!” gasped the Goblin Queen.
“My love…” grunted Sinister, who was still being helped up by his Marauders.
Harpoon, Blockbuster, Arclight, Riptide, and Vulcan had helped him up. Arclight finally succeeded in pulling the paralysis disk off his forehead. As soon as it was gone, he stammered towards the pulsating sphere and attempted to save his lover.
“SELENE!” he cried out.
“No Uncle! Don’t!” yelled Vulcan, who tried unsuccessfully to restrain him.
It made no difference. The dark sphere sucked Selene in completely and her body disappeared into the abyss. As soon as she faded from sight, the Blood Stone of Set broke apart and the dark sphere disappeared. In less than a second, it was gone and so was Selene.
“What the hell did we just see?” gasped Arclight.
“Uh…where’s Selene? Or is that a question we shouldn’t be asking?” asked Harpoon.
“Ask another question like that and you may find out the hard way!” said Riptide.
“Not another word!” spat Vulcan, flashing his power to show he was serious, “It appears…we have lost.”
The Marauders fell silent as they watched Sinister and Goblin Queen kneel in the center of the array where Selene once stood. There was nothing left of her. All that remained were the shattered shards of the Blood Stone of Set.
Now consumed with outrage and grief, Sinister gathered these shards in his hand. He looked up towards Madelyn, who was more distraught than he had ever seen her. Vulcan came up to them and offered a solemn gesture. With no trace of his love left, Sinister narrowed his angry gaze on the X-men.
“She’s gone. You took her from me!” he yelled.
“I would offer my condolences. But seeing as how she tried to destroy an entire city, Ah’ll save ‘em for someone who deserves it,” said Rogue strongly.
“Zhat woman has brought nothing but pain and torment to zhis world,” added Nightcrawler, “Zhis is just her sins catching up to her.”
“Her only sin was taking back what was rightfully hers!” spat Sinister.
“At the cost of all these innocent lives?” questioned Storm, “How can that possibly be justified?”
“It can’t,” said Cyclops strongly, “Selene brought this on herself and you know it. Are you going to fight us for it? Do you really think that will change anything?”
Sinister looked at the shards of the Blood Stone. Then he looked back up at the X-men. His plans and his world had been shaken. His work could no longer proceed. For once, he paid a high price for his ambition. Having gotten so little in return, he had only one recourse.
“No…no more fighting. Not today,” he said in a dark tone, “You X-men think you’ve won. You’re wrong. Everything I had planned was once elegant and clear. Now you’ve left me no choice. The whole world will suffer an even greater wrath.”
“That mean we ain’t getting invited to your bitch’s funeral?” said Wolverine, who couldn’t resist rubbing it in.
“My love is far from dead. As I stand before you, her spirit still guides me. And I will follow it to our destiny. With the blood of my love on your hands, you’ll learn the true cost of your victory soon enough!”
“If it means we have to kick your ass again, we’ll take it,” said Cyclops
“Be careful with your words, brother,” said Vulcan, “The price you could have paid today may be greater than the one you’ll end up paying soon enough.”
With this warning, Vulcan and Sinister turned to the solemn Madelyn Pryor. She was still distraught, but she understood she still had a role to play. Without words or instruction, she nodded sadly and cast a spell.
“I promise you, my Mistress…you will be avenged,” she said strongly.
Using her mystical talents, the Goblin Queen opened up several gateways that engulfed Sinister, his Marauders, the still unconscious Sabretooth, and the jet they flew in on. Within moments they disappeared from sight, leaving nothing in their wake besides their ominous threats.
The X-men didn’t bother going after them. They had too many injuries and loose ends to deal with. It appeared the worst of it was behind them.
“Is it over now? Please don’t even drop any hints to me if it isn’t,” said a tired Shadowcat.
“I swear when I get home I’m going to soak in a vat of bubble bath for the next three days,” said Psylocke in a sore tone.
“That sounds good to me too…after I get some stitches,” groaned Storm, the wounds in her legs now stinging again.
“We’ll have plenty of time to detox, X-men. But before we head back, we have to check in with Phoenix, Colossus, and Iceman,” said Cyclops, despite his concussion, “They may need help on their end.”
“Actually, that won’t be necessary, Cyclops.”
Cyclops and the rest of the X-men looked back towards the mystical array to see Amanda Sefton’s spirit again. She was smiling, indicating that everything had gone well on her end.
“Amanda! Back so soon?” said Nightcrawler, smiling at his girlfriend’s spirit.
“Where’s Peter and Jean? Are they okay?” asked Shadowcat.
“Look up and see for yourselves. We even added one more to the party.”
The X-men looked up to see Phoenix descending from the mountain with Colossus and Illyana in her telekinetic grasp. They both looked equally drained from this arduous battle.
“Hey guys! Did we miss the finale for Sinister and Selene?” asked Phoenix.
“Sorry cherè, but you missed quite a show,” commented Gambit.
“Definitely an X-men classic if there is such a thing,” said Psylocke.
“We’ll give you the full playback later. I’m just glad we’re back in one piece, which is more than I can say for Selene,” said Shadowcat as she rushed to meet up with Colossus and Illyana.
“It is nice to see you again too, Kitty,” said Colossus with a smile, “Right now, I do not care about what happened to that wretched woman. I am just glad my sister is okay.”
“It is good to be back and in one piece,” grinned Illyana, “I hope you beat Selene good! That woman was a monster and I hope you brought her to justice.”
“Oh don’t you worry, Illyana. I’ll tell you all about how Selene got what she deserved,” said Shadowcat.
“Hope that’s not all you talk about, sugah,” commented Rogue.
Shadowcat shot her a bemused look. That kiss on the cheek she gave Colossus hadn’t been lost on her. Colossus clearly hadn’t forgotten about it either. Once Illyana heard about it, they would have a lot to talk about. Her only saving grace was the utter lack of energy anybody had left to make something of it.
“Speaking of awkward and immature moments, where’s Iceman?” asked Cyclops.
“Well the lava flows have stopped, so I’m assuming he was successful,” said Storm as she gazed up at the now peaceful mountain.
“What about Amara?” asked Gambit, “What happened to her?”
Between Selene and Illyana, it was easy to forget that Amara Aquilla still played a part in this affair. Something had clearly happened to her and they couldn’t go back to Nova Roma without her. But before they could start worrying, two more familiar figures descended from the mountain on an ice slide and one of them was naked again.
“Hey guys! Look who I found buried in a pool of lava,” said Iceman.
“Dang! She’s naked again?” said Rogue, who diverted her gaze along with some of the others.
“Not by choice this time, I assure you,” said Amara as she stood before the X-men, still not embarrassed by her nudity, “But thanks to you X-men, I’m still in one piece. I wish I could say the same for Mount Anton.”
“What do you mean? It’s not erupting anymore, isn’t it?” asked Psylocke.
“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” she said as she looked back up at the mountain, “Even though Selene was defeated, the power it once contained is gone. When we get back to the city, I imagine there will be some very upset people.”
“Why would they be upset? We saved their city for crying out loud!” said Iceman.
Amara looked at Iceman and then back at the rest of the X-men. From their perspective, they succeeded. However, the price of defeating Selene left Nova Roma decimated in a way from which it could not recover. Nothing would ever be the same again. Amara turned towards the glowing spirit of Amanda Sefton, who seemed to sense it as well.
“We should return to the Curia,” said Amanda, “We’ve much to discuss.”
“I’m sure they’ll be discussions of a very painful kind,” said Amara distantly, “I can promise your courage won’t go unrewarded, X-men. However, it won’t be without complications. I imagine my father’s people are in the process of losing their temper as we speak.”
Nova Roma – Curia
“YOU TREACHEROUS, INCOMPETENT BARBARIANS! YOU’VE CRIPPLED OUR CITY! YOU’VE DOOMED NOVA ROMA!”
The halls of the Curia were teaming with frustrated men even as exuberant cheers erupted throughout the city. The dark clouds looming over the city had faded. Mount Anton stopped erupting. There was even word that the Black Queen was dead. For many, it was a joyous moment for Nova Roma. For others, it the beginning of a new crisis.
Professor Xavier, Shaman, and Margali Sefton had been watching the scene unfold from the infirmary where Amanda’s body was still resting lifelessly. They were overjoyed to hear from Cyclops and Storm that Selene had been defeated. Her ritual had been stopped, Illyana was safe, and Amara Aquilla had been rescued. For a moment, there was relief and hope. Then the members of the Senate barged in, led by several elders with Lucius Aquilla.
“I take it they’re not here to thank us,” sighed Professor Xavier.
“I get the sense we’ll be lucky if they hate us less than Selene,” said Shaman.
The group of senators angrily approached them. Margali hovered protectively over her comatose daughter. She also stayed in front of Xavier and Shaman as well. The X-men had put themselves in so much danger to save them. It was only fair that she do the same.
“I’m sorry, Margali. I tried to reason with them,” said Lucius, who was being held back by some of his fellow senators.
“Silence, Lucius! You’re in enough trouble as it stands,” barked the elder senator.
“Please…leave him out of this,” said Margali, “Direct your anger towards me. I can’t imagine why you’re so upset though. Your entire city was just saved from Selene’s wrath.”
“You may have saved us from Selene’s wrath, but you’ve left us extremely vulnerable!” the Senator bellowed, “I just spoke with our top mystics. They told me that the energy from Mount Anton is no longer flowing. Whatever your X-men did, they destroyed the source of Nova Roma’s mystical resources.”
“You would rather have such resources in the hands of Selene?” questioned Professor Xavier.
“Selene is not the issue anymore. The energy from that mountain is what has allowed Nova Roma to thrive. It has provided us prosperity and protection for generations!”
“You mean protection in the form of suppressing mutant powers to the point of detriment?” said Shaman, “Sounds more like a luxury to me.”
“Do not chastise me or the institution I represent!” seethed the Senator, “Do you have any idea what this means for our city?”
The elder senator looked ready to tear into Margali, Xavier, and Shaman with his bare hands. He was visibly upset. So were many others. In some ways it was understandable. But from Margali Sefton’s perspective, it was for all the wrong reasons.
“I know exactly what it means for you, Senator,” she said strongly, “It means that Nova Roma can no longer afford to be so arrogant and brazen. It means you have to actually do what the rest of the world does and deal with problems in a way that doesn’t involve throwing magic at the issue.”
“You traitorous, harlot!” said the outraged senator, “You dare…”
“Yes, Senator…I dare,” said Margali, taking a step closer and staring the older man down, “The fact remains that these people you’re so angry at just saved the lives of you, this Senate, this city, and every living soul in it. Yes, it may mean your job is more difficult now. But just for one moment, set aside your bloated ego and listen to the cheering crowds outside. It’s not you to which they owe their gratitude. It’s Charles Xavier and his X-men.”
The senator continued to seethe. But in his silence, he and the rest of his fellow Senators could hear the joyous cries that had erupted throughout the city. Their once terrified citizens were celebrating. To them their world was falling apart and Mount Anton was going to destroy them all. Now they were safe again and could care less about the details.
This did taper the sentiment of some senators, but only to a point. The notion of having to run this city without the mystical resources of Mount Anton was daunting. Too much change was happening at once. Many did not care for such change. Others, like Lucius Aquilla, took a different approach.
“I think those cheers speak for themselves, Senator,” said Lucius, “For once, let’s not fall prey to undeserved pride. I think it’s safe to say we are guilty of taking our resources for granted.”
“Now you’re siding with Margali?” posed another Senator.
“Are we really in a position to cast judgment?” questioned Lucius, “Had we not been so blinded, we may have been able to stop Selene before we lost Mount Anton. Margali and the X-men came here looking to help us. We shunned them, believing we could handle it when it was already too late. In that sense, we’re far more guilty than they are of this loss. If we punish them, we might as well punish ourselves.”
“You speak in such abstracts, Lucius,” said the elder senator, “The fact remains, Nova Roma has lost a precious treasure that will put every one of our citizens at risk. Once that cheering stops, how do you think they’ll react to the news that the magic that once sheltered them is gone?”
“It’s not like we’re crippled. We’re still in one piece, aren’t we?” argued Lucius.
“Be that as it may, these crimes can’t go unpunished,” the elder responded, “Someone has to pay. The law of the republic must be upheld.”
Lucius exchanged glances with Margali. She looked poised to tear into the Senator for daring to condemn them after they helped save this city, but a reassuring smile stopped her. Unlike his fellow Senators, Lucius was not so arrogant to assume that he didn’t need a backup plan.
“I had a feeling you would say that, Senator. That’s why you leave me no choice,” he said.
The elder senator and his associates looked at Lucius suspiciously. Then to their astonishment, the doors to the infirmary burst open and the Praetorian Guard that stormed in. As the Senate stood in shock, they barged swiftly past the senators and forming a defensive line in front of Margali, Shaman, and Professor Xavier.
“Lucius, you deceptive son of a harpie! You didn’t!” seethed the Senator.
“I did,” grinned Lucius.
“What exactly did he do?” wondered Shaman.
“Something he knows he should have tone a long time ago,” said Margali with a beaming smile.
The other senators remained outraged, but for once they were in no position to exercise their authority. Lucias couldn’t help but smile smugly as he let the lead Captain do the explaining.
“Senators of Nova Roma, you have proven yourselves unfit to carry out your duties. Thereby according to Nova Roman law, it is the Praetorian Guard’s duty to suspend your authority,” he said while he and his men pointed their swords at the senators, “Based on Senator Aquilla’s testimony and that of our brethren patrolling the streets, we hereby deem the X-men and the Seftons heroes of the Republic. As such, their exploits shall be celebrated and not punished.”
“Captain, do you have any idea what…” began the elder Senator.
“That’s enough, Senator! By the whims of Mars, I will strike you down,” said the captain, pressing the tip of his sword up against his neck to silence him, “The time for accusations has passed. The Guard is fully aware of what has transpired with Mount Anton. It is for that reason that we demand the champions of this Republic and those who run it set aside their differences and deal with the matters at hand.”
“And we’ve much to deal with, my fellow Senators,” said Lucius, addressing his associates with newfound poise, “We’ve enjoyed an easy ride for centuries. Now as Romans we must rise to the challenge. For our people, our city, and our legacy we must be better. We can no longer fight change. We must now embrace it.”
Lucius’s words struck the rest of the Nova Roman Senate profoundly. The idea of changing so many set ways did not sit well. This was uncharted territory for Nova Roma, but it was unavoidable if not long overdue.
The only ones who smiled were Professor Xavier and Margali. They showed their gratitude for Lucius after having recently scorned him for what he did to his own daughter. This man was now ready to make difficult decisions. They had to be ready as well because many decisions certainly loomed. Once the X-men returned with Amara, they would have much to discuss.
Ann Arbor, Michigan – Department of Social Services
‘What the hell are you doing to me, Sinister? Is this your idea of a game? Stringing me along with bits and pieces of the truth while sending me on a wild goose chases for your amusement? I’ll bet whatever he’s been up to is far less pathetic than this.’
Raven Darkholme had been agonizing over her mission all day. Ever since Sinister took her off the Nova Roma operation, she had been frustrated beyond measure. It wasn’t that the task he gave her was hard. It was just tedious and Mystique hated tedious missions.
Sinister knew how much she despised these missions and that was why she was so convinced he was toying with her. It was the only logical explanation for why she sent her to these poorly run, poorly managed buildings nestled throughout Michigan. These were areas so run down that half the officials were asleep on the job. She didn’t even have to disguise herself. It was an insult to someone of her skill.
Whatever Sinister’s reasons, she did as she was told. The file she gave him contained instructions for finding an old case file that had been mysteriously purged from all public databases. There was no name associated with the file. It only had a number, 137-616-350-123. Somewhere within this labyrinth of bureaucracy was the original file, assuming it too hadn’t been purged. Mystique had weeded through several government buildings in the greater state of Michigan. This was the latest and probably the last.
‘This is it. If that file isn’t here, then I’m spending the next week-and-a-half yelling into Sinister’s ears.’
Disguised as a female intern, who she made sure had car troubles so she wouldn’t show up for work today, the shape shifter poured through several rooms filled with stacks of folders. Each looked identical to the other. Some were torn and difficult to read. Others were so poorly organized it looked like someone threw them onto the shelves and forgot about them. Finding one file in this mess was a nightmare.
Mystique groaned in frustration as she pulled down another box from a random part of the main stack. She had to dust this one off a bit. It looked like this box hadn’t been touched in decades. She opened it and skimmed over the top layer of folders, working her way down through the pile. Then at the very bottom she saw it, an old torn up file with a faded tab that read 137-616-6106-161.
“This is it? This is what Sinister sent me to find?” she said dryly.
There was little accomplishment in such success. Usually, Sinister’s little chores involved a lot more fighting and destruction. Something like this seemed trivial. With only minor curiosity, she opened the file to see what the big deal was. It was an old case that social services worked on for an abandoned orphan. Then Mystique saw the name associated with the case and her interest suddenly peaked.
“Gryadon Creed?” she read in astonishment, “He was an orphan?”
The shape shifter reverted back to her normal form and read on. She knew of Graydon Creed. He was the mutant-hating zealot behind the Friends of Humanity. As far as she was concerned, he was just another scumbag with dreams of genocide. Not a whole lot was known about him other than he came from a wealthy family. The bigger question seemed to be why Sinister would want her to investigate this.
She kept reading through the file in search of answers. She eventually found them in the form of a medical report that included a DNA test. The report had the ominous markings of military insignias, hinting that somehow Creed was linked to the military. When she saw the paternity test, she knew why and the truth disgusted her.
“Sabretooth…Victor Creed is the son of Sabretooth!” she gasped.
That wasn’t the only revelation that shocked her though. There was another part of the same report that was just as striking. Under where it stated Victor Creed as the father, there was a slot for the biological mother. It said unknown in bold letters. However, as Raven Darkholme read this, a string of memories buried deep within her psyche came rushing back to her.
In a flash she recalled this painful feeling of being restrained, beaten, and raped by a snarling monster. It was so painful. She literally felt a sharp sting shoot through her core as the memories played out.
In another flash she recalled being in a hospital and giving birth to a baby. She found out from Destiny that this baby was not a mutant. For some reason when she looked at this baby, she was enraged and disgusted.
In another flash she recalled giving her baby to a mysterious figure. She called the baby Creed and told the figure to put him some place safe and prosperous. The figure promised to do so and she walked away, never expecting to see the baby again.
As all this came rushing through her mind, Mystique sank to the floor in a fit of anguish. Another piece of cold hard truth had struck her. The name Creed could no longer be written off as a coincidence and the reason for Sinister giving her this mission was now painfully apparent. Collapsing in a fit of anger and tears, Raven Darkholme clenched the file. There was no escaping it now. Graydon Creed wasn’t just some anti-mutant zealot. He was her son.
‘It…it can’t be. Sinister…he knew. My son…the son I wanted to forget…that bastard knew. And now I know!’
Nova Roma – Three Days Later
Nova Roma had endured a lot in its 2,000 year history. From the last days of the Roman Republic to the many challenges that came with a constantly changing world, it found ways to survive and prosper. The latest attack by Selene Gallio presented the city with its greatest challenge to date. The magic from Mount Anton was gone. The city no longer had the luxuries it once did and would have to adapt in a big way.
For the past three days the Praetorian Guard held provincial authority while the Nova Roman Senate debated a new course of action. Professor Charles Xavier and Margali Sefton worked with them along with the X-men, who helped the Nova Roma security legions re-establish order within the city. A new string of reforms were voted on and approved. With less magic at their disposal, Nova Roma was going to have to open itself to the outside world.
To help with this, Professor Charles Xavier got in touch with General Grimshaw. It took some serious convincing, but he did manage to help them open the doors to contact with the outside world. In addition, Nova Roma would place more emphasis on technology rather than magic. Xavier assisted them again with this, offering contact with Aerie Global and their vast resources. These connections would help ensure that Nova Roman glory would not miss a beat.
It wasn’t all one-sided though. In exchange for Charles Xavier’s assistance, the senate made a number of concessions. They agreed to suspend their policy of suppressing mutant powers with magic. They also agreed to lift Margali and Amanda’s exile. With Amanda in a coma and her house destroyed, they needed a place where they could remain safe. Nova Roma was their original home and it seemed as fitting a place as any. Since Amanda was still in a coma, Margali and Shaman could continue their work protecting the dangerous power within.
Once the reforms were made official, the Senate retook authority from the Praetorian Guard. Now the difficult task of implementing them lay ahead. But before they confronted those challenges, there was still room to celebrate. The defeat of Selene was cause for a major festival in the heart of the city at the Temple of Jupiter. It was here where Lucius Aquilla and the rest of the Nova Roman Senate honored Professor Xavier and his X-men as heroes of the Republic.
“Friends, Romans, and countrymen…I thank you for gathering today during this difficult and momentous occasion,” announced Lucius from a podium before thousands of Nova Roman citizens, “As you all know, our city is undergoing great change. Mere days ago, we stood on the brink of destruction. Our complacency allowed the Gallio family to come close to complete that which nearly destroyed us 2,000 years ago. We assumed the gods would always protect us. We assumed we would not have to work for the glory that makes Rome what it is. In the end it wasn’t the gods that saved us. It was a group of gifted outsiders who saved us all. For that, Nova Roma owes Charles Xavier and his X-men our eternal gratitude.”
Lucius stepped back and allowed the citizens to applaud the X-men. Professor Charles Xavier was besides the podium with Scott, Jean, Bobby, Logan, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Kurt, Kitty, Piotr, and Betsy standing proudly on the steps of the temple. They waved to the crowds below, smiling at the warm reception these citizens offered. Compared to the Nova Roman Senate, the people of this city were truly gracious.
“VIVAT THE X-MEN! VIVAT THE X-MEN! VIVAT THE X-MEN!” they cheered.
“The hell are they saying? They ain’t knockin’ us in some weird Roman way, are they?” said Logan, who maintained a half-smile.
“No Logan. It’s Latin,” said Betsy, rolling her eyes, “It means long live the X-men.”
“Just makin’ sure,” said the feral mutant.
“Let’s give them their due credit, Logan,” said Ororo, who welcomed the cheers as well, “They have a lot to learn. But based on what I’ve seen, they have the heart and spirit to carry them through this.”
“I agree,” said Professor Xavier as he smiled with his students, “Like the rest of the world, they are facing a great deal of change. By helping them, we don’t just gain allies. We gain friends.”
The X-men continued to wave. As they embraced the crowd’s adoration, a number of Nova Roman mystics and officials approached them and presented them with a ceremonial crown. They called it the Corona Obsidionalis, which consisted of exotic grasses and leaves. To wear this crown was one of the highest honors in Rome. Each X-man knelt down so the officials could place it on their head. Among them was Amara Aquilla, who paid special attention to Bobby Drake.
“You’re not just a hero to Nova Roma, Bobby Drake. You’re my hero as well,” she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
Bobby blushed at Amara’s unexpected gesture. His smile grew even wider and he barely noticed the crown becoming crooked on his head. Even when he was being honored as a hero, Bobby couldn’t help but look goofy.
“You look absolutely ridiculous and she didn’t have to get naked this time,” commented Jean.
“If you’re trying to take my spirit down a peg, don’t bother. Not even the Phoenix Force could wipe this smile off my face,” said Bobby proudly.
“A beautiful woman will do that,” said Scott, “But does this mean you’ve completely forgotten about Jubilee?”
“How about we not bring up the crazy shit in our personal lives for one day and enjoy this rare moment of adoration?”
Scott and Jean exchanged glances and shrugged. They were content to follow Iceman’s advice and so were the others. This was a great moment for them. They were being honored as heroes. It was moments like this that made their struggles more meaningful.
Once each X-man wore their Corona Obsidionalis, Lucius took the podium once more. Amara joined him, standing alongside Margali, Illyana, and Shaman. While few others could see, Amanda Sefton was also present in spirit. She made herself invisible so she could witness this moment. It was deeply significant for her family, the X-men, and Nova Roma as a whole.
“Thank you, X-men. On behalf of Nova Roma, we honor your friendship. From here on out, consider yourselves citizens of the Republic,” said Lucius, earning another round of applause, “But even as we honor the heroics of these brave souls, we must remember our new responsibilities. We must not let our hubris blind us anymore. We face a future where we cannot hide behind magic. We must learn to embrace the outside world. We must adapt and grow as a people. It will be difficult, but where challenges arise so too does opportunity. We need not shun difficulties. We must embrace them. Today marks the beginning of a new era. Today, the glory of Nova Roma shall grow in a new light. Together, we will prevail. The Republic shall prosper not through the whims of magicians, but through the blood, sweat, and tears of its people. Long live the Republic! Long live Nova Roma!”
Another round of cheers erupted from the crowd. This time it was even larger than before. Music and dancing broke out in the streets. Citizens threw confetti and rice in the air, chanting and singing the praises of their proud city.
“VIVAT NOVA ROMA! VIVAT NOVA ROMA! VIVAT NOVA ROMA!”
It was a lively display of hope and courage. While many senators, mystics, and authority figures didn’t share in their jubilation, they did embrace in this moment of unity. Lucius Aquilla seemed most hopeful. He stood ready to lead his fellow senators into this new era. He was also ready to make up for past mistakes.
As he stepped down from the podium, Lucius greeted Professor Xavier and his daughter. He graciously hugged Amara before shaking Xavier’s hand. The rest of the X-men joined in as well, shaking the hands of a few Senators and soldiers from the Praetorian Guard. With the singing and dancing going on around them, it was a joyous time for new beginning.
“That was wonderful, Daddy!” said Amara, “Oratory worthy of Cicero himself.”
“Coming from you, that means the world to me, Amara,” he said as he turned to Xavier, “And I never would have heard it were it not for your efforts, Charles Xavier.”
“It’s what we X-men do, Senator,” said the Professor as he shook his hand again, “I wish you the best of luck in making good on your speech.”
“I already have,” he said proudly, “The rest of the senate will still need convincing, but they’ll come around. The good thing about men like them is they’re finite. Their time will pass and the next generation will pick up the torch. Hopefully, they’ll avoid our mistakes.”
“As long as you learn from them, father,” said Amara, “Which reminds me, I should offer my thanks to your X-men as well. You have inspired me to do something more with my studies.”
“Oh? And what might that be?” asked Xavier.
“Well seeing as how Nova Roma must learn to deal with the outside world, it makes sense that some of us venture out to learn more about it,” she explained, “That’s why I plan on enrolling in the Academy of Tomorrow in your United States. Phoenix gave me the number. I hear they’re doing some wonderful things in teaching mutants to use their powers for the greater good.”
“I see,” said Xavier with more intrigue, “Well I’m sure Emma Frost will be eager to teach you. Although I must warn you, being inspired is a lot easier than staying inspired.”
“I’m well-aware of the risks, Professor. Having just experienced the plight of mutants, I feel obligated to become part of this struggle. I can help those like myself and my fellow citizens. Besides, the outside world has much to offer. I want to explore it.”
Amara looked back towards the X-men, most notably Bobby Drake, as she said this. It brought a smile Professor Xavier’s face as well as some trepidation for Lucius. Her daughter was still as adventurous as ever. Now that she had a chance to pursue passions beyond Nova Roma’s boarders, it was sure to turn a few heads. However, if she was willing to work through them, then so was Lucius. He owed it to her and to her mother’s spirit.
While Amara looked forward to venturing into the outside world, the X-men were savoring a small taste of paradise in this secluded city. Being cheered and respected was a good feeling. Even if it was fleeting, it was nice to know there was a small part of this chaotic world where they were welcome.
“I’m so going to miss this place,” sighed Betsy, “Aside from the hostile greeting, it has turned into a nice little slice of paradise.”
“I’ll say. I hope the transition here isn’t too harsh. I would like to be able to visit this city again,” said Ororo, who especially enjoyed the warm tropical air.
“I hear ya,” grinned Logan as he looked towards some of the cheering women, “Between the wine, the nude bath houses, and the orgies I may have found my new favorite vacation spot,”
“I’m sure you’re looking forward to going on your first drinking binge here, Logan,” said Jean, rolling her eyes.
“In that case we should probably warn the Praetorian Guard,” added Scott, “You may leave a bigger mess than Selene.”
“Can it, bub. You got a hot redhead to help you cope with your problems. Some of us need that and a hell of a lot more for ours.”
The idea of Logan spending his downtime in Nova Roma was disturbing, especially when he still had his share of issues. However, that was a concern for another day though. They had a cheering crowd and a party in their honor. They were content to enjoy it.
For others, the celebration was secondary. As relieved as they were to be done with Selene, it had brought some unexpected changes that went beyond Nova Roma. Those changes had already affected Kitty and Piotr on a personal level. Since Kitty’s fateful kiss, the two had been awkward around each other.
“This is some place, huh?” said Kitty as she looked out over the crowd, “A lost city in the mountains, only now it can’t stay lost anymore.”
“Nova Roma is unlike any city I have seen before. And I have seen many,” conceded Piotr, “It is tragic in a ways. If the city is not lost, then it can’t be the safe haven it once was. These people are happy now, but it is only a matter of time before reality sets in.”
“I hope you’re not getting too dire on us, Petey. It’s not like they haven’t made the right moves so far.”
“We shall see,” the Russian conceded, “Whatever happens, I hope the beauty of this city is preserved. It will have to be now that Illyana will be living here.”
“That’s right. She’s staying with the Seftons, isn’t she?” said Kitty.
“Da, and they are staying in Nova Roma,” he said distantly, “I suppose I should be somewhat relieved. This city is still isolated from many dangers.”
“Yet you’re still nervous about it?” said Kitty with a playful tease.
“I’m her brother. I’m always nervous for her.”
“Aww, don’t feel bad about it. Look at it this way…you have an excuse to come visit. And Nova Roma is an awesome place to take a date.”
Kitty was not subtle about the subtext of her tone. She reinforced her point by locking arms with the imposing Russian. Now he was blushing profusely, but still smiling. Kitty made her intentions clear like she always did. That kiss on the cheek meant something and now she was ready to explore that meaning with him. And Piotr’s awkward demeanor didn’t go unnoticed.
“Did I just hear what I thought I heard? Is my big brother going on dates now?” teased Illyana, who had been standing close to her brother.
“You are so easily intrigued, Snowflake. Most of our conversation should be focus on how you’ll adjust to living in this city now,” he said, trying to deflect some of the awkwardness.
“If I can survive an encounter with Selene, then I can adjust to life in Nova Roma,” she said confidently, “Since Shaman is staying here with Miss Sefton, I must stay as well. But enough about me. I would much rather talk about you and your new girlfriend!”
“Sso I’m a girlfriend now? Peter, did you and Illyana decide this behind my back or something?” said Kitty, pretending to be offended.
“What? No I…” the Russian stammered, “Are you two are conspiring against me now?”
“It’s not our fault you make it so much fun,” teased Illyana.
Kitty and Illyana laughed while Piotr shook his head and sighed. It seemed Nova Roma wasn’t the only one facing new beginnings. Illyana seemed content to set up shop in a new home. It was nice to see that she was so optimistic. With Kitty Pryde in the mix, he had every reason to share that spirit.
Not everyone was so optimistic though. Even though the general feeling among the X-men and the city was positive, there were some who spent the last three days in a state of uncertainty. Rogue was one of them. She had since stopped smiling the moment Lucius finished his speech. Like the city, she faced her share of decisions and these decisions were bound to affect more than just her.
“You look like you havin’ a blast, cherè,” commented Remy, “All this celebratin’ and you look as excited as a pig on its way to the butcher.”
“Don’t go trying to cheer meh up, Remy. I got a lot on mah mind,” said Rogue as she slipped away from the others.
“You ain’t said much these past three days. Your mind must be pretty dang cluttered,” the Cajun pointed out as he followed her.
“It ain’t for the reasons you think. It may seem like Ah enjoyed being an X-man again, but make no mistake. Ah ain’t going back to the institute. Not yet anyways.”
“Oh…so I guess that means you gonna stay here with your bro?” said Remy in a disappointed tone.
“Are your ears broken? Ah said it ain’t for the reasons you think. Ah’ve been wrestlin’ with another kind of decision…one that doesn’t involve you, but Ah know it’s gonna affect us.”
“So now there be an us?” he questioned, grasping her shoulder and stopping her cold.
Rogue remained silent as she felt Remy’s warm touch through her shirt. The notion of the two of them being an item was still taboo, albeit not nearly as much as it once was. However, it was still not possible and there were still so many issues they had not confronted. So for now, Rogue placed her hand over his and gently pushed it away.
“It’s still too soon for that, sugah. There are some issues Ah gotta work out before we cross that bridge,” she told him.
“What kind of issues?” said the Cajun skeptically, “Are they the kind that’s gonna leave room for another new female recruit to pull Remy away? Cause next time it may not end so smoothly.”
“That’s a chance we’re gonna have to take. With or without an us, some issues can’t wait. This is one of them.”
Rogue walked away, leaving Remy behind to contemplate her words. This woman had a talent for frustrating his passions. He hadn’t allowed himself to be strung along by a woman like this since Belladonna. It already led him into the arms of Betsy Braddock. And even though that didn’t last, something had to give. Whatever decisions Rogue was making, he needed to be ready to make some of his own.
Remy still lingered in Rogue’s thoughts. She resisted the urge to look back at him because that would only make what she was about to do even harder. She hated doing this to him. She hated doing this to herself. But that was why she had to make a change. The arrangement with the Seftons hadn’t worked for her either of them. She needed a change in scenery and that involved an important discussion with her brother.
Upon receiving his accolades, Kurt quickly rejoined Margali and Shaman who were standing behind the podium. He was much more upbeat than he had been, thanks largely to Amanda. Even though her spirit had its limitations, at least he could still interact with her. It also helped that this affair effectively ended the Sefton’s exile.
“So is it official? Are you really moving back to Nova Roma?” asked Kurt.
“It’s my home, Kurt. It has always been my home. It’s the best place for me and Amanda to be right now,” sighed Margali as she gazed out over the city she had missed so dearly.
“Plus, the house was destroyed if I recall. Moving here saves us the trouble of rebuilding,” added Shaman.
“It also provides us with additional resources with which to treat Amanda,” said Margail, “Even without Mount Anton, Nova Roma has extensive mystical knowledge. It could be instrumental in rousing her for her coma.”
“I don’t know, mom. I already sucked up enough magic from the mountain to project myself. Without that mountain, it’s going to be a challenge,” said Amanda’s ghostly form.
“It vill be worth it,” said Kurt with a warm smile, “You can expect me to stay as vell. I’ll adjust to Nova Roma. I’ve dealt vith far more extreme situations.”
This earned him a smile from Amanda’s spirit and a supporting gaze from Margali. She was probably going to need his help too. Amanda’s condition was still precarious, even with Selene out of the picture. While Kurt had renewed confidence, the same couldn’t be said for Rogue.
“So Ah guess that saves meh the trouble of asking the big question,” she said as she approached her brother, “You already decided, didn’t you? You’re staying.”
“I’m sorry, mien sister. I meant to talk to you about zhis, but I…” began Kurt, but Rogue cut him off.
“Don’t bother explaining, Kurt. Ah know why you gotta stay. Where Amanda goes, you go,” she told him, “For the past few days, Ah’ve been wondering if Ah’m in the same boat. Ah followed you when you left the X-men because Ah felt like you needed meh.”
“But zhat wasn’t zhe only reason, vas it?” he questioned.
“Well that and Ah needed some time to get mah head together. And lately, Ah’ve found mahself wrong on both counts.”
“Vhat do you mean? You zhink I don’t need you anymore?”
“Not in that way, you don’t. Not anymore,” she said strongly.
Rogue tried not to come off too harshly. She placed an affectionate hand on her brother’s shoulder, making it clear that she still cared about him and she wasn’t taking this lightly. But this was something she had to do.
“Kurt, when you and Ah just knew each other through letters, Ah was always in amazed at how someone in your situation could be such a great guy. You always talked about having faith…believing that everything happens for a reason. Well for the past few months, that faith ain’t keeping up. Even you’ve gotta admit you’ve been off your game.”
“I don’t deny zhat, Rogue. Amanda’s current state may be complicated and zhat has weighed heavily on my soul,” admitted Kurt, “But Zhat doesn’t mean I’ve lost faith. Ve have tools to help us. So many zhings are different now.”
“No Kurt, it ain’t,” said Rogue solemnly, “Something still ain’t right. Ah can see it in your eyes. And frankly, meh being here is only making it worse.”
“How can you say zhat? You’ve done so much to support me since you arrived.”
“That’s the problem, Kurt. Ah keep supporting you because you ain’t supporting yourself. It’s like you’ve forgotten and there ain’t nothing Ah can do to remind you. That’s why Ah ain’t stickin’ around. You need to do some soul searching and so do Ah.”
Kurt stood in shock. His sister had been such a vital part of his struggles and now she was telling him she wasn’t going to be there anymore. It sounded unfair and selfish. However, he found no flaws in her reasoning.
It was hard to argue that his faith hadn’t been shaken. He was not the same man he was when he left the X-men. A lot had changed and a lot was going to change. The idea of enduring it without Rogue didn’t sit well, but it wasn’t his decision to make.
“So…vhere vill you go? Vhat vill you do?” he asked her.
“Ah made a few calls yesterday. Ah’ve worked out a few arrangements,” she said, “Don’t worry about the details. Ah’ll fill everyone in soon enough. Right now, Ah just want you to know that Ah still love you, Kurt. Ah wouldn’t make a decision like this if Ah didn’t think it was right. So Ah guess all Ah’m asking is for us to trust each other.”
Kurt shifted under his sister’s gaze. He saw in her eyes a mix of sorrow and hope. He had a new sense of confidence, which was something he hadn’t seen in her for quite some time. She had stood by him and done everything a sibling could ask. Now she was asking for something in return. Managing an affectionate smile, Kurt pulled his sister into a light embrace.
“I understand,” he told her.
“So…we’re still okay? You’re not mad at meh?” asked Rogue anxiously.
“You’re my sister, Rogue. If you really feel zhis is right, zhen I vill not stand in your vay. All I ask is zhat you be careful, as redundant zhat may be for someone as strong as you.”
Rogue laughed with her brother and hugged him back.
“Ah’ll do mah best…to a point,” she said in a humored tone, “Don’t think Ah ain’t gonna stay in touch though. Ah’m still gonna bug the hell outta you when you need bugging.”
“I vouldn’t have it any other vay.”
Kurt and Rogue smiled once more before rejoining the celebration. It was a bittersweet moment. Kurt still had his share of doubts. Amanda was still in a coma. Rogue was leaving once again. The X-men still had a lot on their plate with Genosha and the MSA. In addition, Sinister was still at large and in a very bitter state after the loss of Selene. Everybody had their own burden to carry and his remained heavy. While Kurt had plenty of reasons to have faith, he still had a long ways to go and so did many others.
Another battle had ended. Another foe had been defeated. Professor Xavier and his X-men embraced this triumph. He shared this moment proudly with Scott, Jean, Bobby, Logan, Ororo, Rogue, Kitty, Kurt, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr. The singing, the dancing, and the cheering meant more than mere praise. It showed that the X-men had made a difference. They had plenty of work ahead of them, but here in the sacred city of Nova Roma they could for a time enjoy the fruits of their efforts.
District X – The Next Day
“Yes…I understand….I will, Charles. Again, I apologize I wasn’t there to help with the ordeal in Nova Roma…Don’t worry, I have plenty of reasons. I’ll fill you in after I settle some personal matters…Thank you. I know I have plenty of lectures to make up for. I’ll get started on that as soon as I return.”
Hank McCoy ended his phone call with Professor Xavier on a conflicted note. He didn’t realize how long he had been away from the X-men until Charles told him everything he had missed. He was only gone a few days, but in those few days the X-men endured a major battle against Selene and discovered a hidden city in South America. It was a colorful reminder that a lot could happen with the X-men in a short span of time.
He was prepared to return despite his own personal struggles, which ended in failure. He and Sage spent the last few days searching tirelessly for her missing research. The neuro-mutagenic matrix that his lover created was still out there. It didn’t seem right that he was her lover and he was leaving before this was resolved.
“It would seem my duties to the X-men must draw me away. Charles and the rest of the team have returned to the institute and we’ve much to catch up on as always,” announced Hank, who had been pacing restlessly in Sage’s quarters.
“I understand. Go back to your friends, Hank. Don’t let me keep you,” said Sage in a flat tone.
Sage didn’t even look at him from behind her elaborate computer array. She had been immersed in her work since they ended their search. She claimed she was catching up on the District X affairs she negated. She didn’t expect him to believe her. He was smart enough to decipher her subtleties.
Never-the-less, he walked up to her desk and stood behind her. She had turned her emotions off again. He could hardly blame her, given the revelations of the past few days. It wasn’t just that she found out that someone stole her work from Shaw Industries. Her secret life as Tessa, a researcher and bedfellow of Sebastian Shaw, came out as well. This was difficult realization for both of them and one that was sure to affect their relationship.
“I do not wish to leave on a solemn note, my dear. Once I walk out that door, I’m not taking our relationship with me,” he said strongly, “I still love you. I want us to work through this.”
“So do I, Hank. I may not sound too upbeat at the moment, but I promise you it’s true,” she said, still locked on her computer array.
“Then what are we going to do? Is any of that computer data you’re processing part of a plan for our relationship?”
“We don’t need a plan right now, Hank. We need time. I told you all the gruesome details about my life with Shaw. Let’s give that time to sink in before we move forward.”
“To cite late great Albert Einstein, time is relative,” he told her, “How long are we going to allow this to propagate?”
“Not long, I promise,” she said strongly, “At the moment, we each have our duties. You have the X-men. They need you and you shouldn’t negate them for my sake.”
“What about you? Is District X going to be your chief concern once more?” he questioned.
“District X is always my top concern. However, this is bigger than District X. I still have to find my research. EVA is still out there. Someone was determined and resourceful enough to steal it. I’m going to find out who it was and stop them before they do something terrible with my work.”
“I hope you’re not implying that you’re doing this on your own. Time or no time, I still want to help.”
“You already have, Hank. And I’m sure you will continue to do so when the time comes,” she told him, “But for this, I’ll need more than just brains. I’ll need muscle as well. That’s why I’ve arranged for someone to assist me in this search.”
Sage finally turned away from her computer and rose up from her seat. Hank continued to gaze at her curiously, her stoic expression persisting despite his heart-felt sentiment. She turned to her right and looked towards the door to her quarters. After a quick telepathic message, the door opened and a new figure entered the room.
“Heya teach! Long time no see,” greeted Rogue, grinning at Hank’s reaction.
“Rogue?” said a very surprised Hank, “This is the muscle you’ve arranged?”
“Ah’ve gone toe-to-toe with Juggernaut, sugah. Can you think of any muscle that’s more qualified?” she said, flexing her arms a bit.
Her point was valid. That didn’t make the shock wear off any sooner. Rogue hadn’t seen much action since she went on her sabbatical from the X-men. This was quite a change and one that showed how serious Sage was about finding her research.
“Do I detect a hint of disapproval?” said Sage.
“Of…of course not,” he said quickly, “It’s just surprising, that’s all.”
“What can Ah say? Ah wanna see some action again. Can’t let all mah valuable X-men training go to waste, can Ah?” she said.
“But what about…” Hank began.
“Kurt and the Seftons?” she finished for him, “That’s a long story and one Ah prefer to table for the time being.”
“The necessary arrangements have already been made, Hank. Rogue and I have a lot of work to do and time is working against us,” added Sage, “There are too many ways my research could unleash incalculable destruction. I won’t rest easy until we find it, destroy it, and take down the bastards who still have it.”
Next Issue: Supreme Justice
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