The world is changing. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears such change. Some see mutants as mistakes in the human gene pool that must be contained and controlled. By contrast, some mutants see themselves as superior and believe that humanity is doomed to extinction. It’s a complex and dangerous conflict that constantly tests the X-men’s resolve.
Since the disappearance of Magneto, one of the X-men’s strongest allies has been General Nathan Grimshaw. He formed the Mutant Security Agency, a department of law-enforcement with the goal of holding mutants accountable to the law. The idea was to put humans and mutants on equal footing in the eyes of the law. However, this noble endeavor has encountered a new complication. During an assessment of the system at Fort Leavenworth Prison, a number of mutants escaped thanks to former Brotherhood member, Toad. It has left the system and the X-men shaken in a profound way.
This also comes at a time when the X-men have had a series of encounters involving mysterious religious zealots. Not much is known about them other than they are very passionate. And unlike those such as Reverend William Stryker, these people see mutants very differently.
Dead Sea – Ten Years Ago
“Dr. Henson, get over here now! We need your help.”
“Settle down. I’m on my way,” said a breathless middle-aged man.
The heat of the Middle East was unbearable at this time of day. The sun baked the desert landscape with punishing 120 degree heat. The people around Israel, Jordan, and Egypt were used to it. But for Dr. Ryan Henson, such heat was a far cry from the heat of northern Georgia where he grew up. It took nothing short of divine inspiration to draw someone to these barren deserts. But as it just so happened, Dr. Henson’s life had always been driven by divine inspiration.
Having a doctorate in theology and a passion for divine wisdom, there were few obstacles that could keep Dr. Henson from getting closer to God. It wasn’t enough to just preach the gospel. He had to study and understand it. This spiritual drive guided his life and right now it was guiding him through the punishing heat around the Dead Sea.
“You academic types spend too much time in air conditioning,” said a Jordanian guide who was leading this expedition.
“Try not to hold it against me. Our minds rarely keep up with our bodies,” said Dr. Henson as he wiped more sweat from his face.
“You sound like a glutton for punishment, Dr. Henson. This is the sixth trip you’ve made to the Dead Sea and the third you’ve made to this site. Several other teams have excavated it thoroughly. There’s not much left to find and you know how sensitive the authorities can be.”
“I know the risks. I’ve already made my share of enemies with governments and colleagues. They all say I ask too many questions for a man of faith.”
“Would you think less of me if I agreed with them?” asked the guide.
“Not at all,” said Dr. Henson with a light-hearted smile, “I know asking questions about matters of faith seem counter-intuitive. It rubbed my old pastor the wrong way. But I like to think that if God didn’t want us to understand faith, then he wouldn’t have made it so fascinating.”
Dr. Henson ignored more bemused looks from his Jordanian guide as he reached the excavation site. This area was part of some very sensitive grounds. It wasn’t far from where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found decades earlier. The local authorities exercised strict control over this area. There was always potential for discoveries that could rock the foundations of the world’s religions and nobody was too eager to disrupt the status quo. Yet that was exactly the kind of discovery that Dr. Henson hoped to find.
The site itself wasn’t very big. It was part of a small church complex that got buried in an earthquake centuries ago. It was discovered four years ago by a team of researchers from Egypt. They found a couple of artifacts dating back to the first century. It was nothing too spectacular. It contained pottery, coins, and a few religious Roman artifacts. Most had already been taken to museums and universities for further study. By all official accounts, this site had been picked clean.
However, Dr. Henson suspected there was more that had yet to be discovered. When he entered the site and met up with a female colleague, he carried with him the hopes that his suspicions may finally be justified.
“Where is it?” he asked her.
“Over here,” she said, her voice brimming with excitement, “Remember that faded mosaic on the wall? The one the last team said was too faded to make sense of?”
“Did you find a clue to deciphering its meaning?”
“Not exactly, but we found the next best thing. It turns out the remnants of that wall had been hallowed out. There’s something inside it and our Egyptian friend is drilling through as we speak.”
“He had better drill carefully. We don’t want to disturb the contents within, if there are any,” said Dr. Henson, maintaining his calm.
His colleague led him into the heart of the site, which they had covered with a series of tents. The previous teams did about twelve feet of digging to expose the structure. Not much was intact aside from some old altars, some benches, and a few tables. Most of the walls were in tatters, but a few remained standing. The one that drew so much interest was near the back. It was no bigger than the size of two pickup trucks stacked on top of one another. It didn’t look much different from the other rocks throughout the area. If it was hiding something, this would be the perfect place to do so.
“Are you almost through?” asked the female colleague.
“I’m already done,” said the Egyptian man in his thick accent as he stopped the drill, “There is definitely something inside. I’ll let the good doctor here do the honors.”
“You almost sound afraid,” commented Dr. Henson, “Discovery is supposed to be exciting.”
“In my experience there are some things best left undiscovered.”
“And I believe those very things are what I feel brings us closer to God,” he retorted.
The Egyptian and the guide stepped back so Dr. Henson could work. A large rectangular cut had been made in the stone along with a hole in the side so it could be pried open. The doctor got help from his female colleague, making sure they removed the cut slowly so as not to expose the contents within too quickly. In this harsh environment, they could crumble the moment they were exposed to air.
“Careful now,” he said with bated breath, “We could be dealing with very fragile artifacts here.”
“I’m not even going to look,” said his colleague nervously.
They pulled apart the slab just a few inches so Dr. Henson could see inside, using a small flashlight to illuminate the darkness. It was more confined than he expected. It was barely large enough to fit a couple of wine bottles. But within that space, there was definitely something there. It appeared to be a thick cylindrical case made of leather and linen. Based on how dusty it was, it had to be quite old.
With gentle hands he took out the case and held it as he would a newborn baby. His colleague finally looked, her curiosity getting the better of her. She watched as he carefully opened the case to retrieve the contents inside.
“What is it, doctor?” she asked intently.
“A ceremonial container,” answered Dr. Henson, “More Egyptian than Roman from the looks of it. The early temples of the first centuries used them to store scrolls. For someone to go through the trouble of hiding it in a hollowed out wall, they must have contained something important.”
Dr. Henson’s excitement grew as he reached into the container to find an old curled up scroll. It looked as old as the leather casing and clearly hadn’t been touched in centuries. This could very well be the big discovery he always dreamed of making. His associates were more nervous, watching as he carefully unrolled part of the scroll.
“My God…” he gasped.
“What is it?” asked his colleague.
“It’s Aramaic,” Dr. Henson responded, “Very old Aramaic from the looks of it.”
“Can you read it? What does it say?” asked the guide.
It was difficult to make out since the ink was so faded, but there was certainly a message on this ancient parchment. Dr. Henson’s skills in Aramaic were somewhat rusty. He studied it along with Greek and Latin during his theology studies. It was not an easy language to read, but he was able to make out one phrase in particular.
“Blessed blood,” he said distantly.
“Blessed blood? What does that mean?” asked the Jordanian guide incredulously.
Dr. Henson remained fixated. His palms grew sweaty, but this time it wasn’t from the desert heat. Something about those words struck him to the core of his spirit. It was as if God was sending him a sign. This parchment was very important. These words meant something and by whatever heavenly decree, he was tasked with handling it.
With shaking hands, he carefully put the parchment back in the container. Upon closing it, he clutched it firmly and rose up. He turned to his Jordanian guide, looking strangely calm amidst this most holy of discoveries.
“I have a question for you, my good man. How much would I have to pay you to tell the authorities that we found nothing in this excavation?”
“Are you bribing me, Dr. Hansen?” said the guide with a raised eyebrow.
“I have eight thousand US dollars at my disposal. I’ll give you every last dime in full. Think of it as a tip. This way when you’re asked, you’ll only have to use half-truths.”
He sounded excited yet concerned. Even his female colleague looked worried. But eight thousand dollars was nothing to scoff at. A man didn’t willingly offer that much money unless he was either deeply committed or deeply depraved. Either way, it offered plenty of incentive to forget the name Ryan Hansen as soon as possible.
“Seeing as how we have not found anything, I will file a report,” said the guide, hoping to never lay eyes on this man again, “God be with you, Doctor.”
“Yes…God be with us all,” said Dr. Henson distantly, “More than you could possibly imagine.”
Xavier Institute – Xavier’s Office
“Are you sure your mind wasn’t playing tricks on you, Xavier? You’re positive it was Toad wielding these disturbing new powers?”
“Yes, Wanda. I’m sure it was him,” said a frustrated Charles Xavier.
Wanda Maximoff was making a troubling situation more difficult. Having cleaned things up as best he could at Fort Leavenworth, he turned his attention towards finding Toad and the escaped prisoners. With relations between the X-men and General Grimshaw so tenuous, the burden fell on his shoulders to make it right.
This was why he sought assistance from Wanda Maximoff and her vast resources on Genosha. The X-men had been instrumental in keeping the Genosha deal intact. Logan’s work on the island may not have earned him any friends, but it did curtail the thefts and inefficiency that plagued both sides. He thought she would be willing to help since it involved a former teammate. He discovered that she and the rest of the Brotherhood found it hard to believe that Toad could do this much harm.
“As unbelievable as it seems, it’s true. Somehow Toad has become much stronger and much more ambitious. I didn’t get a chance to probe his mind, but it felt similar to what I sensed when Magneto was overtaken by the Cambrian.”
“You better not be suggesting the Cambrian is still active…or worse, that my father is up to his old tricks again.”
“I’m not ruling anything out at this point, Wanda. Whatever the cause, Toad is now on the loose and capable of causing plenty of trouble.”
“I’m usually willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, Charles. I don’t intend to make an exception this time. But what exactly are you asking of me? Genosha and the Brotherhood cut ties with Toad the moment he was arrested.”
“I’m not asking that you reestablish those ties. I know you’re already in a precarious position as Genosha’s ruler.”
“Then I assume you’re asking me to divert what little manpower I have towards finding Toad. Given all the work it takes to run this island, I’d say that’s asking a lot.”
“Wanda, I’m not trying to ask for more than you’re willing to give,” said Xavier with growing frustration, “But you must understand that…”
Wanda didn’t let him finish. She was showing her share of frustration as well and did not seek to belabor this issue.
“What you’re asking overtly doesn’t change what you’re seeking covertly. That’s something my father often said. I get that you’re in a difficult position. Believe me, I know all about being in difficult positions. But this goes beyond simply lending a hand and into the very things that separate the X-men from the Brotherhood.”
“I thought you of all people would be concerned that a former teammate that you abandoned has escaped,” Xavier pointed out, “Are you not the least bit worried that he might be upset about your actions?”
“I am concerned, but not as much as you want me to be. It’s not that I’m overly fond of the little bugger, but he was once of us. He understood what he was getting into and he understood what would happen if he failed. If he seeks us out, that’s one thing. But you can’t expect us to help hunt him down. If one of your X-men were on the loose and we thought they were a threat, I imagine you would be just as conflicted.”
It was a perspective he hadn’t considered. Toad may not have been everybody’s favorite teammate in the Brotherhood of mutants, but he was still part of their team. There was still some loyalty between them and the Professor couldn’t expect Wanda or anyone on Genosha to ignore that.
“I’m sorry, Charles. But I can’t help you.”
“I understand. Thank you for your time, Wanda,” said Xavier flatly.
“I still wish you luck. If possible, keep me in the loop.”
“I will,” he assured her.
Professor Xavier ended the video uplink and Wanda’s image faded from his computer screen. Toad’s escape from Leavenworth caused more logistical nightmares with each passing day. Every moment he remained free was another moment with which he could bide his time. Scott and Betsy mentioned how he seemed much more unbalanced than before. He warned them he had plans. And with the likes of Stryfe, Vertigo, Gateway, Sauron, and the Klienstock brothers at his disposal, those plans could do a lot of damage.
It was a tense situation that was just beginning too unfold. As he sat behind his desk, Xavier felt another throbbing headache. They had been happening ever since the breakout. They felt more painful than a typical migraine. Being a psychic, he was used to some head pain. This was on a different level and one he didn’t wish to endure.
“You look like you’re having a bad day, Professor,” came a voice form his office door.
Xavier looked up and saw Scott Summers entering his office.
“In this case I’m glad you didn’t knock. Even the world’s most powerful psychic can be sensitive to the rigors of a pounding headache,” he told his young student.
“I’ll assume the conference with Wanda didn’t go well and drop the subject completely. We’ve already put Wolverine on the case and if Toad smells as bad as he did at Leavenworth, he should pick up his scent if he’s in the same time zone.”
“I’ll only feel better when I can tell General Grimshaw we’re fixing this problem.”
“We will. Toad may have some new tricks, but he’s no Magneto. If he’s lucky, his plans won’t drive him nearly as crazy,” said the X-leader confidently, “In the meantime I have something that may help with those headaches.”
Scott approached his mentor’s desk and placed a small stack of papers in front of him. They were all freshly printed and they seemed far less dire than the Toad situation. As Xavier picked up the papers, the X-leader explained.
“Remember those incidents with some religious zealot in New York? Well Piotr happened to pick up a clue during his date with Kitty,” he said, “After looking into that church he mentioned, we were able to get some answers.”
“The Church of Humanity,” Xavier read from the top page, “Where did you get this?”
“From the most in-depth and powerful investigative tool in the world…Google.”
It was an simple yet effective means of gathering intelligence. The front page of the church’s website was quite different from that of a normal church. It had typical Christian crosses and pictures of the main building they worked from. But what stood out was the frequent use of symbols that resembled strands of DNA mixed with Judeo-Christian symbology. In addition, the mission statement of the site was quite telling.
“Seeking and celebrating salvation through the blessed blood bestowed by the Lord,” Xavier read from the site’s mission statement.
“That caught my eye too. They don’t say it outright, but this church seems to mix theology with mutants. Not sure if that’s a volatile mixture or just weird,” said Scott.
“Weird being quite relative by our standards,” Xavier pointed out as he read over more pages from the church, “I would certainly like to meet someone from this church.”
“I’m as curious as you, Professor. That’s why I called them. I managed to find their phone number from a few public records and the guy who answered was very interested in meeting you as well.”
“Interested how?” he questioned.
“Let me put it to you this way…when I told him I was Cyclops from the X-men, he thought it was a prank call. It took me five minutes to convince him of who I was and afterwards he spent the next five minutes apologizing.”
Now Professor Xavier was even more intrigued. A church that took a deep interest in mutants offered plenty of cause for concern. While he was hesitant to mix his cause with religion, this was something he felt he couldn’t and shouldn’t ignore.
“In that case I don’t think I’ll get the answers I want from their website,” he said as he set down the stack of papers, “When do they want to meet?”
“They say they can greet us at the front doors within two hours,” replied Scott, “I already talked to Mr. McCoy. He’s not opposed to a little field trip.”
“Then we should get going. I could use a break from searching for Toad,” said Xavier as he wheeled out from his desk, “I’m sure if there are clues out there, Logan will find them. Although I am somewhat wary of leaving him completely to his own devices.”
“Don’t worry about that, Professor. Jean and Miss Munroe made arrangements to ensure Logan behaves himself,” assured the X-leader as he followed his mentor out of the office, “They kept him in line when they were dating him. They should be able to keep him in line when he’s on a mission.”
Los Angeles, California – Downtown
“GET AWAY FROM ME YOU SNARLING FREAK! I ALREADY TOLD YOU I DON’T KNOW!”
“Bub, all I did was ask a question and you used your powers to give me a big fucking headache. Talking is the only way you’re getting outta this in one piece!” roared an angrier than usual Logan.
There was more commotion than usual during the early morning rush-hour. Los Angeles was well-known for gridlock and bad air quality. Now it was known for renegade mutants as well. Since the outbreak at Fort Leavenworth prison, Professor Xavier tasked Logan with tracking Toad and the escaped prisoners. He made it clear that this was a big deal. General Grimshaw and the MSA were pitching a fit over a bunch of mutants escaping from custody and they needed leads to improve the situation.
Logan knew all too well how to escape the government’s clutches so he was uniquely qualified for this mission. This meant he had to tap into his old, pre-X-men methods. He went on the hunt, searching for clues and contacts to get a scent on Toad. He hit up mutant-friendly bars, snuck around mutant-friendly communities, and roughed up anyone who had a trace of his stench. Since Toad’s scent was hard to miss, he picked up a trail. That led him to a mutant with a history of keeping bad company named Wildside.
“Out of my way, people! Official X-men business coming through,” barked Wolverine as he shoved through crowds of unsuspecting commuters.
“Fuck that!” shouted Wildside, “You X-men are working for the feds now. And to think I once looked up to you guys.”
Their chase caused all sorts of commotion. It started outside a parking lot where Wildside was meeting up with some less-than-respectable friends. Logan listened from afar, hearing about how Wildside was making his living helping local street gangs hold onto territory. He was not a model citizen to say the least and when he mentioned some new contact with pitiful hygiene, it peaked his curiosity. Logan moved in for questioning, quickly scaring off Wildside’s buddies. Then he started running and hadn’t stopped since.
He chased him down six blocks of busy rush-hour traffic. They weaved through busy crosswalks, intersections, and outdoor restaurants. They caused no fewer than four fender benders and really pissed off one unlucky restaurant manager with an outdoor display. Despite the commotion, Wolverine remained locked on Wildside’s scent. He tried to defend himself by using his powers to disrupt his senses, but he didn’t anticipate him being able to follow his nose. It allowed the feral X-men to stay close even when the mutant deviant tried to ditch him inside a parking garage.
‘This guy’s gotta know something. He’s the kind of scum that would hang out with Toad and not give a damn how much he stinks. He pretends to be tough for a living. He’s just the kind of guy that slime ball would go after.’
The feral mutant ducked and hurdled a string of cars, following Wildside across the first level of the parking garage. He was boxing himself in, showing that he was more brazen than smart. Even with his head still pounding, Logan closed in on him. Wildside was running full speed towards the other end, fighting off panic and fatigue. He was about to jump back into the busy streets when he struck what he felt like an invisible brick wall.
“Umf! What the…” he began.
“That’s quite enough of that, young man,” said the authoritative voice of Ororo Munroe.
“Yeah, the traffic in LA is bad enough. We don’t need guys like you making it worse,” said Jean Grey, who was the source of the invisible wall.
The two X-women emerged from the level above, indicating they had been following this chase since the beginning. Jean and Ororo led the way and Remy Lebeau followed closely, watching with mild amusement at the scene that unfolded.
Now stopped cold in his tracks, Wildside was levitated several feet into the air and turned upside down. Already fatigued from so much running, he was rendered dazed and disoriented. It didn’t help that Logan came charging in with his claws still drawn, ready to slice into him with reckless abandon.
“Ugh…you guys are making this the worst day of my life,” Wildside groaned.
“Pipe up, dirt bag! I can still make it way worse,” snarled Logan before turning to his teammates, “You girls must not know me as well as I thought. I don’t remember asking for backup.”
“Funny, you never minded a pretty femme savin’ your butt before,” Remy pointed out.
“I also don’t remember why anyone would wanna bring the Cajun along,” he added.
“Take it easy, Logan…as hard as that may be for you,” said Ororo in a calming tone as she approached her former lover, “For one, we know you didn’t ask for backup. We came here on to help with this investigation.”
“You forgot to add watching over me,” he said dryly.
“I thought that would be a given. It’s a good thing too because your lack of subtlety does not mix well with rush-hour traffic,” she said with a humored grin.
“Ain’t like anything mixes well with your methods, homme,” added Remy.
Logan snarled at the Cajun, who he wasn’t nearly as pleased to see. Ororo and Jeannie were welcome sights even when they got in his way. Remy’s only purpose in life seemed to be getting under other peoples’ skin, going deeper with some more than others.
“And he’s here because?” Logan pointed out.
“You searchin’ for a deviant. Remy is a former deviant. Ain’t that hard to wrap your head around, non?” he shrugged.
“And once you heard we were heading to LA, it would have taken more than any force of nature I could conjure to keep you away,” added Ororo, earning her a look from Remy.
“Now that I believe,” said Logan, “But in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t need any help. I found a lead and he’s gonna give us some answers.”
“I doubt that, Logan,” said Jean Grey, who was focused on the still hovering Wildside.
“Well I won’t know until I ask the question now, will I?” said the feral mutant as he menacingly held his claws up to the unfortunate figure.
“There’s no need. I already read his mind. He was more than willing to give me permission,” the young psychic pointed out, “He hasn’t been contacted by Toad. That friend of his with the pitiful hygiene he mentioned was just some guy he buys cocaine from…a guy who spends so much time snorting and selling that he often forgets to pay his water bill. Isn’t that right?”
Wildside, who was in no position to be defiant, continued anxiously staring down the angry Wolverine.
“It’s true. His name is Jumbo. I’ll even give you an address, his cell number, his Facebook password, and the corners he deals at!” the young mutant cowered.
“Sounds like quite a character,” muttered a disappointed and somewhat sheepish Logan.
“Who definitely isn’t the man we’re looking for,” Jean pointed out.
Having confirmed this guy didn’t know anything about Toad, Jean set him down. The minute Wildside was on the ground, he backed away from Logan. He then tripped over himself twice as he stumbled back into a light run.
“You X-men are traitors!” he shouted, “I thought you were heroes. Now you’re just a bunch of government thugs. To hell with you all!”
“Au revoir to you too, homme,” said Remy, rolling his eyes.
The X-men didn’t make much of his words. They had heard that sentiment before. Ever since they partnered with the Mutant Security Agency their standing with other mutants had taken a hit. Even if it was for the greater good, it was hard to see that when they were chasing down mutants who hadn’t done anything wrong.
This led Jean, Ororo, and Remy to scorn Logan doing little to help their reputation. He didn’t seem that apologetic as he retracted his claws. He diverted his gaze and started walking towards the exit to the parking garage while his teammates followed close behind.
“Come on, Logan. Don’t make us chase you the same way you chased that poor mutant,” said Ororo.
“Ain’t nothing poor about him, Ro. Even if he didn’t shit about Toad, he’s still a punk,” said Logan bitterly.
“Be that as it may, it couldn’t hurt to be somewhat careful,” said Jean, choosing her words carefully, “I know it’s not your style, but we won’t find Toad’s trail by harassing mutants like this.”
“Unless it ain’t Toad you be searching for,” added Remy in a more serious tone.
“Don’t start with the philosophy shit, Cajun. I ain’t in the mood,” said Logan as he reached the exit of the garage.
“It ain’t shit if it don’t stink,” argued the Cajun, “It seem like every job the Professor gives you, the only way you go about it is by overreacting and under-thinking. Whether it be Genosha or finding Toad, you clearly ain’t fighting to accomplish something. You just fighting.”
“What do you expect? I’m a fighter. Or have I not made that painfully clear by now?” snarled Logan.
“There’s fighting and there’s fighting for the wrong reasons, Logan,” said Ororo, placing a hand on his shoulder, “I can see it too. Everybody can. Something is still bothering you. Distracting yourself from it only goes so far.”
“You got a better way? I’d love to hear it,” he said, pushing Ororo’s hand off his shoulder.
“You’re in a team with people who love and care about you,” said Jean in an equally sincere tone, “On top of that, you have two of the most powerful psychics in the world living under the same roof. Would it really do too much damage to that ego of yours if you asked for help?”
It was a lot harder to ignore when she framed it like this. Jean Grey had a talent for making painfully obvious points. She and Ororo were among the precious few who could get around the frustration and pig-headedness that often blinded him. Seeing as how he also once dated these women, it was difficult to walk away.
He may have stopped his drinking binges, but that didn’t mean he was less tormented. He was still reeling from revelations surrounding Sabretooth, Weapon X, Mystique, and the Yashida Clan. Time and again, he refused to confront it. Jean, Ororo, and the rest of the X-men understood he couldn’t run forever. If it was going to keep affecting him like this, they had to confront it.
“There’s a time for work and a time reflection, Logan,” said Ororo in a kind tone, “We can help you with both or we can help you with just one. Either way, we’re not going to keep watching you suffer.”
“So you might as well save us the trouble of annoying you to death and give us a chance,” said Jean, “We can keep searching for leads, but at one point we should sit down and have a chat that doesn’t involve life-and-death struggles.”
Logan grumbled a few incoherent words to himself. Beautiful women had a way of humbling him. Jean and Ororo weren’t afraid to exploit that. In their eyes, it was for his own good. And they were right much to his chagrin. Shaking his head, he turned to face them. Then a new scent drew his attention.
‘No…it can’t be. X-23…she’s here?!’
It was coming from across the street. He knew that scent. It was impossible to miss. He hadn’t seen her since their encounter in District X. had searched for her tirelessly and hadn’t found a trace. Now she had found him again at a time when he had stopped looking for her. This was a bad sign that Wolverine didn’t dare overthink.
The scent was going upwind as if to purposefully direct the scent to him. It was a textbook tactic meant to lure him into another chase. And despite what Jeannie and Ororo just told him, it worked.
“That chat is gonna have to wait,” he snarled as he drew his claws again, “Looks like someone followed us here and is trying to screw with me again!”
With renewed recklessness, Logan barged past Jean and Ororo. He was back in full predatory mode, darting out into traffic and aggressively seeking a scent. The two X-women were left confused and frustrated. They didn’t know what he just sensed, but it looked like they were going to have to annoy him after all.
“Dang, Remy thought for a moment you femmes got through to him,” said Remy.
“Guess we’ll have to push harder,” sighed Ororo.
“Or maybe this time there is something,” said Jean, doing a quick scan of her telepathy.
“You mean Logan’s brutish instincts could be right this time?” said Ororo.
“I’m not sure,” said the young psychic, “I’m getting some strange psychic chaff. There may be something here in LA after all. Seeing as how this something is moving inhumanly fast, we better get moving.”
Outskirts of New York City – Church of Humanity
There were countless churches throughout the upstate New York area. They came in all shapes and forms, encompassing every variety of worship and creed. In a country as diverse as the United States, it shouldn’t have been too shocking to find one church that followed a very unique kind of theology.
Professor Xavier arrived at the Church of Humanity early in the afternoon with his team. Scott, Hank, Piotr, Kitty, and Betsy came along for the ride as part of an impromptu field trip. It was also a precautionary measure. Both their encounters with this church involved a small outburst of violence. While they seemed more welcome here than they were in most places, it left plenty of room for suspicion.
“You sure this is it, Professor?” asked Kitty as they stepped out from the X-van, “If this is the Church of Humanity, it looks a bit too…”
“Normal?” offered Betsy when she couldn’t find the words.
“Relatively speaking…yeah,” she affirmed.
“You were expecting a church with a very different message to stand out?” said Piotr.
“It’s not like I expected a cathedral made out of solid gold. It just seems a bit…unorthodox.”
Kitty may not have been able to find the words to describe this place, but the others shared her sentiment. On the outside, the Church of Humanity didn’t appear to be radically different from a typical church.
It was fairly large, standing at about three stories tall and covering an area about the size of a football field. It didn’t look like a new building either. It looked like an old building that had been renovated and expanded. The architecture was typical for a Christian church. It had a number of stained glass windows in the front and on the sides. There was also a large cross dominating the front of the building. However, there were some peculiarities. On the windows and along the walls, there were more exotic symbols that resembled strands of DNA. It helped give this church a very different feel.
“So how cautious should we be, Professor?” asked Scott, “We’ve dealt with mutants mixing with religion before, but not like this.”
“And perhaps there’s a good reason for that,” made Betsy, “Every time I’ve ever heard the holier-than-thou types talk about mutants, it’s only been to link us to the devil or something mental like that.”
“With guys like Magneto throwing around Old Testament crap like candy, I can’t say I blame them,” said Kitty.
“That appears to be the mainstream view. However, history has shown time and again that no matter how dominate one interpretation may be, there will always be a fringe group,” said Professor Xavier as he surveyed the church complex thoroughly.
“And it is often the fringes of a religion that are the most dangerous,” added Hank.
“Well of course you would say that, luv. You’re a man of science,” Betsy pointed out, “Religion is sort of on the opposite end of the spectrum for you.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. While I may be a man of science, I’ve seen enough unholy manifestations that lead me to conclude there are forces in this universe we don’t understand. And mixing those forces could cause problems,” said Hank, viewing the church with suspicion.
“I wouldn’t go that far, comrade McCoy,” said Piotr, “I grew up in the ashes of the very anti-religious Soviet Union where the mixing of any forbidden ideas was dangerous. Perhaps some new ideas would do our cause some good.”
“If Bobby was here and not chasing Jubilee in District X, I bet he would call that hopeless optimism,” said Kitty as she playfully latched onto Piotr’s arm.
“I’m inclined to call it something else, but I shall reserve my judgments for the time being,” said Hank, his tone remaining serious.
“As will I,” said Professor Xavier with a tad more optimism, “If these people are willing to embrace us, we should be willing to embrace them as well.”
There were still mixed feelings amidst the skepticism. It might have been easier if Bobby had decided to tag along instead of drowning himself in personal matters. This mixture of mutants and religion could go any number of ways. They weren’t going to know what kind of people they were dealing with until they confronted them.
The X-men approached the front doors cautiously. The church was located on the outskirts of New York city so there wasn’t a whole lot around the area aside from an office park, a couple neighborhoods, and few rest stops leading up to the main highway. It seemed hidden without being too remote. They were barely halfway towards the entrance when the doors opened and several figures stepped out.
“Charles Francis Xavier,” said a man in a priestly robe, “By God, it really is you. The famous X-men are actually here at my humble church.”
“Wow…that may be the most polite greeting we’ve ever had,” commented Scott.
“Is that a good or a bad thing?” questioned Betsy.
“That remains to be seen,” said the X-leader
The X-men maintained a friendly demeanor as the man respectfully approached and extended his hand to the Professor. He looked upon him and the team as if they were more than just heroes or celebrities. In his eyes there was something special about them and it wasn’t just their powers.
“This is truly a great honor,” he said as he eagerly shook his hand, “Please allow me to welcome you to the Church of Humanity. I am Father Ryan Hansen. I am the founder, leader, and head of this humble institution.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Father Hansen,” said Xavier, somewhat humored by the vigorous way the man shook his hand, “I appreciate you agreeing to meet us on such short notice.”
“For the famous X-men, no notice is too short,” he assured, “I understand you are very busy. I hoped to reach out to you sooner, but did not want to complicate your affairs more than they already were.”
“I appreciate your sentiment. We’re always busy, but we’re always willing to make time for those who share our message.”
“And I don’t plan on wasting too much of that time. If you feel your burdens are more manageable when this is over, I’ll know I did the Lord’s work,” said the priest, “With that in mind, please follow me. We have important matters to discuss.”
Father Hansen led Professor Xavier and the X-men into the church. So far they sensed no danger. This man seemed as sincere as he was excited. It was a welcome change of pace from men like William Stryker. As they entered the church, the other figures who had accompanied the priest joined them and they offered some interesting observations.
The other figures were dressed as priests too. There were four men and one woman. Three of the men seemed normal enough, looking like the kind of people they would see walking down the street in the middle of the day. The other two had some noticeable differences. The woman had light blue skin and pinkish hair. She was clearly a mutant, looking as though she had the powers that involved aquatic forces. The other was a middle-aged man with a light layer of feathers over his skin with a bird-like complexion. He was clearly a mutant as well, resembling a Morlock they had come across. He probably had flight powers and like the younger woman, his appearance did not seem to cause much commotion.
It was an intriguing sight, seeing two mutants dressed as priests alongside ordinary humans. They shared the same calm demeanor and looked upon the X-men with the same respect as Father Hansen.
“You are mutants?” Piotr pointed out as they approached the church.
“Yep!” said the bird-like man proudly, “Newly ordained I might add.”
“We are the only official church in the country that ordains mutants as ministers,” said one of the non-mutant priests, “It is something we’re very proud of.”
“I’ll be the first to say that’s pretty gutsy. Hell, I know some churches that still refuse to ordain women,” said Betsy.
“We like to think of ourselves as progressive in that manner. It’s what sets us apart both logistically and theologically,” said the blue-skinned woman.
“Sounds both gutsy and dangerous,” said Scott, “Do you worry about making yourselves targets?”
“No church ever strengthened the spirit of the faithful without taking risks,” said the oldest non-mutant priest, “Christ, our Lord, was willing to lay his life on the line. We must be willing to do the same.”
“That alone makes you guys the coolest church in my book,” said Kitty, already feeling at ease around these people, “Does it bother you that I’m a non-practicing Jewish girl?”
“Of course not,” assured the man with feathery skin, “As the name of our church implies, we embrace humanity as a whole and not just segments of it. You being an X-man demonstrates just how strong your humanity is. For that, we are deeply honored to have you in our church.”
“You speak of us as if we are holy or something,” said Piotr.
“Don’t be so certain that you aren’t,” said the younger non-mutant priest.
Such sentiment further intrigued the X-men. They were so used to being looked down upon by humans and other mutants. Being placed on a higher level of respect was an unusual yet welcome feeling. However, it still raised concerns.
As soon as they stepped through the doors, they passed by rows of benches and pews. For a church of this size, it had a pretty decent seating capacity. There was easily room for a few hundred people. The seats were organized like a theater, having been arranged in semi-circular rows that overlooked a central area. While it looked like a normal church in its basic layout, there were some significant differences.
Along the walls and windows of the church, there were murals and pictures filling every available space. They were very elaborate, depicting classic Christian scenes like the crucifixion and the birth of Christ. Some were more contemporary, depicting images like DNA and mutated humans. Every image seemed to converge at a large symbol hovering above the central area. Some recognized it as the same symbol from the necklace Piotr recovered, consisting of a Christian cross with an X imposed on the background.
“That symbol…I assume it has a prominent meaning,” commented Hank.
“Indeed it does,” said Father Hansen proudly, “That is the official symbol of our church. We don’t display it prominently outside because most who see it don’t understand it. When someone asks and I explain it to them, it tends to lead to confusion and even a little hostility.”
“Why would that be?” he asked curiously.
“To answer that question, I’ll need to give you some background on how this church came to be,” said the priest as he stopped walking for a moment, “Before I put on this priestly garb, I was a simple theology student. I grew up in a deeply religious home with two wonderful parents who taught me the ways of the Lord. I attended church every Sunday. I participated in every church activity I could. However, I had an annoying propensity to ask a lot of questions. I didn’t always get answers so I dedicated much of my life to seeking God both academically and spiritually.”
“That’s some dedication,” retorted Hank, “A curious mind and a faithful mind sounds like a potent, albeit unusual combination.”
“Still better than whatever twisted combination created a guy like William Stryker,” muttered Kitty.
“And here I was hoping we could avoid that comparison,” said Xavier, who gave Kitty a bemused look for her overly loose tongue.
“That’s okay, Professor Xavier. I’m well-aware of the parallels. Whereas Reverend Stryker’s faith led him down a path of hatred, mine led me down a very different path,” said Father Hansen, maintaining a friendly demeanor, “After opting not to join my father’s real estate business, I enrolled in Trinity College where I earned my doctorate in theology. At the time, I had no interests in becoming a priest. Much of my work involved researching old manuscripts of religious texts. Some were Christian. Some were Jewish. A few were even Islamic, Hindu, and pagan. Where many saw divisions, I saw connection.”
“So what led you to make a mutant connection?” asked Professor Xavier.
“With you, of course. Or more accurately, the connection became clearer with the growth of the mutant population,” he said with proud smile, “I remember early in my studies how the miracles of holy texts were uncannily similar to the feats that mutants regularly accomplish with their powers. You must admit there are some striking parallels. You X-men even once had a member who bore the classic depiction of an angel.”
“You wouldn’t be the first to notice that,” said Hank, “I’ve often hypothesized that many ancient tales drew some inspiration from individuals with mutant abilities.”
“And there is much evidence to support that hypothesis, although discussing it in theology circles is taboo to say the least,” said Father Hansen.
“I’m sure that didn’t make you many friends in religious circles,” said Betsy.
“Let’s just say I wasn’t invited to many bake sales,” he replied in good humor, “As I’m sure you know, the prevailing theological view of mutation is that it is a curse. Mutation is seen as a perversion of the perfection that was achieved in the Garden of Eden.”
“Yeah, I think I heard Reverend Stryker make that argument three times a week during the last presidential campaign,” said Scott.
“Well I don’t agree with him. I always saw that sentiment as being politically motivated. Like slavery and sexism before it, fallible men use the Lord to justify popular prejudices. So rather than debate with my peers, I pursued further study and came to a very different conclusion. I am now convinced that mutation is a significant part of God’s plan. And one of the primary motivations for me starting this church was to be part of this plan. While some do respond with hostility, I’ve found plenty others who embrace it.”
He spoke with such confidence and conviction. Father Hansen was certainly not an old fashioned fire and brimstone preacher. He truly believed that mutation was holy. It was a different type of theology than the X-men were used to, but they welcomed it none-the-less. And they weren’t the only ones.
Looking around the pews, the X-men saw a few people silently praying. Much of the area was empty since there was little church activity at the moment, but those that were present looked every bit as devout. There were a few ordinary people who offered friendly looks. There were even a few mutants, some of which they recognized. One was Leech from the Morlocks. He was among a small number of mutants who seemed to find comfort in this place. It helped lend credence to Father Hansen’s holy mission.
“Okay, for once I’ll say it before Kitty blurts it out. I’m impressed,” said Betsy.
“So am I and now I feel foolish for having brought my visor,” said Scott with far less suspicion.
“Holy or not, I’m all for a plan that helps mutants and humans come together,” said Kitty.
Even Professor Xavier was impressed. This man’s spirit, as well as his thoughts, were in the right place. However, there were still plenty of issues that hadn’t been addressed.
“Your church is remarkable, Father Hansen. I think we’re all in agreement on that. But there’s still the matter of the two incidents in New York involving what I believe is an associate of yours,” said Hank.
“You just have to be the spiritual buzz kill, don’t you Mr. McCoy?” commented Kitty.
“Actually, I’m glad you brought that up,” said Father Hansen, “I didn’t plan on avoiding that issue. I’m fully aware that elements in this church have caused quite a stir.”
“Does that element happen to own this?” said Piotr, who pulled out the necklace he picked up at Yankees Stadium.
“Ah, that would be Isaac’s,” he said in a more solemn tone, “I’m sad to say this isn’t the first time someone has taken our doctrine too seriously. I doubt it will be the last.”
“I hope you’re not insulted if that concerns me,” said Professor Xavier.
“Not at all, Professor. It concerns me as well. There are always extreme elements within a movement. Ours is no different.”
“Then so long as we’re here, I would like to learn more. It would be helpful to me and my X-men if we understood this theology to you speak of, Father Hansen.”
“Suffice to say, such a significant deviation from mainstream religion doesn’t come from just anywhere. There is always a source of revelation, so to speak,” said Hank, “Can we assume that your movement is also not different in that respect?”
Both Professor Xavier and Hank still harbored a certain amount of caution. This man and his church followed some unique tenants and there had to be a source for those tenants. The onus was on Father Hansen to show them so they could allow themselves to trust him.
“Very well,” he said without hesitation, “Follow me and I’ll show you what has led me to this spiritual journey. If you want, the rest of your X-men are free to explore the church and talk to my congregation.”
“So long as we don’t have to take part in any exorcisms, we should be okay,” said Kitty.
“Even in a church, your insensitivity still astounds me, Kitty,” said Betsy, rolling her eyes.
“I appreciate that, Father Hansen. I’m sure my X-men have plenty of questions to ask,” said Xavier, indicating to others that they should do some investigating of their own.
“As well they should,” he said, “Although they’ll be missing quite a treat. It’s not every day you get to read the Lost Gospel of the Sacred Sacrament.”
Los Angeles – Chinatown
Wolverine was on the warpath once again. He had been jumping from one battle to another, letting feral instincts and old grudges guide him. Since he broke up with Storm and met a mysterious girl calling herself, X-23, he fell back into old habits that the X-men had been helping him break. If he wasn’t fighting, then he was drinking himself into a stupor. There was never any time to slow down and make sense of it all. There was only the next battle.
This time he came full circle. After so much searching, X-23 found him before he could find her. Now he had to catch her before he missed out on some desperately needed answers.
‘Laura…X-23…I spent months scouting every hooker-laden street corner trying to pick up her scent. And I got nothing but the smell of cheap booze and herpes out of it. She didn’t want to be found. And if she really is my clone, she’s skilled enough to keep it that way. Something’s different now! Either she’s had a change of heart or she’s in a shit load of trouble.’
The feral mutant ran across an intersection swarming with traffic, ignoring blaring car horns and angry cursing from Los Angeles drivers. At one point he stuck his claws into the hood of a taxi so he could leap over it, causing more commotion and a few fender benders. None of that mattered to him. All that mattered was following this scent.
He had left Storm, Phoenix, and Gambit behind. They were still catching up and probably cleaning up some of the messes he made in his wake. That was fine with him. He would take whatever angry scolding they planned to give him later. This was a personal mission and he needed to finish it while he still had a the chance.
Upon reaching the other side of the street, Wolverine followed the scent through a maze of confused pedestrians. He was in Chinatown now, which seemed appropriate since so much of this trouble began in Asia. The scent was slowing down. It seemed to be settling somewhere in an alley behind a restaurant and a museum. He finally left the more crowded streets of Los Angeles and entered an area more confined.
“Don’t keep running from me, kid. Hear me out before you lead me into another trap.”
Wolverine hurdled a few dumpsters and narrowly avoided stepping on a garbage bag full of rotten Chinese food. He took a few turns down an alley until he found himself in a more open area. It looked to be a loading bay for delivery trucks. There were no trucks parked in the area at the moment and this was where the trail ended. As soon as Wolverine sprinted into the clearing, he discovered the terrible reason why.
“No…” he gasped.
His predatory instincts gave way to horror. Lying in the center of the clearing was the bloody, battered, and deathly still body of X-23. It was clearly the source of the scent, but not in the way Wolverine expected.
Retracting his claws, Wolverine ran up to her. This girl had been bloodied and beaten. She was wearing the same dirty clothes she wore the last time they met. However, much of that attire was torn and stained with blood. She had no fewer than fifteen bullet wounds in her and not of the smaller calibers either. They were perfectly placed with wounds around her neck, lower back, chest, and face. If that wasn’t enough, it looked like someone slashed her around every major artery so that she would bleed profusely. Whoever did this knew how to hurt her in a way that was difficult to heal from, even with a healing factor.
Through all these bloody wounds, Wolverine carefully took the young woman in his arms. Her condition was dire yet there was still life in her and he refused to let that it fade.
“Kid…Laura,” he said breathlessly, “Come on, don’t do this to me!”
“Hnn…run,” was all she got out.
“Who did this to you?” he demanded, “Tell me! I can help you.”
“Help?” came a deep, machine-like voice, “You really think you can help her? Just look at her. The last thing she needs is help from a monster like you.”
Wolverine snarled with burning rage as a new presence entered the clearing. He could already smell Laura’s blood on his hands. That was all the reason he need to tear into him. Clenching his fists, he set X-23 aside and stood up to face the new figure.
“Bub, whoever you are you just signed your ticket to Hell!” roared the former living weapon as he drew his claws.
“Oh don’t be so dramatic. I didn’t do anything to her that isn’t part of my mission. I am not a thug that you can intimidate. I am Fantomex…the perfect incarnation of the weapon that you failed to be.”
Slipping down from a perch on a nearby fire escape, a figure gracefully leaped into the clearing and landed in front of Wolverine. If he was supposed to be a deadly weapon, he sure didn’t look the part.
He was an imposing, impeccably toned man who stood a little over six feet tall. He had the figure of a star athlete or supermodel as opposed to a weapon. It was hard to tell if he had the face for it because his body was covered from head to toe with a white body suit that looked like a mix of spandex and inter-woven body armor. His entire face, apart from his eyes, was covered by a matching mask. Along his waist were holsters for special guns in addition to slots for combat knives. Wolverine could tell they had been used because they still reeked of X-23’s blood. But that wasn’t the only stench this man was giving off.
“A new weapon, eh? Should I be even more pissed if you reek of Weapon X?” snarled Wolverine.
“If I do, I’m offended,” replied Fantomex, “Weapon X is a relic of the past. It is a failed experiment, just like you. I am something better. I am Weapon Plus.”
“Doesn’t matter what you call yourself. So long as you hang out with assholes like ‘em, I ain’t gotta feel guilty about what I’m gonna do to you!”
“If you wish to make good on such vulgar threats, you’ll have to catch me first.”
Before Wolverine could even begin his attack, Fantomex turned around and ran off at speeds that would’ve impressed Quicksilver. He even threw in some agility into the mix, skillfully scaling a nearby building and slipping onto the roof. This made Wolverine even more determined to hunt this man down.
Just as Fantomex was making his escape, the rest of the X-men caught up with Wolverine. Storm, Phoenix, and Gambit flew in on a wave of wind streams and telekinesis just in time to see this new enemy escape.
“Hey Wolverine! You done with your little tour of LA or are we gonna have to hog-tie you?” said Gambit as Phoenix let him down.
“And who in heaven’s name is that?” asked Storm, gasping in horror at the bloodied body of X-23.
“A girl that needs your help more than me,” answered Wolverine, who was still focused on Fantomex.
“Why ain’t you gonna help her?” asked Gambit, his attention shifting to the girl as well.
“Because I gotta hunt down the son-of-a-bitch who did this to her!”
“Logan don’t!” urged Phoenix.
There would be no stopping him. He ran off once more, literally clawing up the same building in pursuit of his new adversary. Even the power of the Phoenix Force couldn’t slow him down at this point. Wolverine was in a state of mind that was dangerously close to his berserker rage. It was a state where his only focus was to hunt and attack. Fantomex wanted to get to him by hurting X-23. His plan succeeded and now Wolverine was going to make him regret it.
Phoenix was inclined to pursue her former lover. She held back out of concern for the bloodied girl lying in the middle of the clearing. She turned to see Storm and Gambit tending to her.
“This girl be in bad shape. What does she got to do with Wolverine anyhow?” asked Gambit as he took off his trench coat to cover her.
“She must be that girl he mentioned from District X,” said Storm with growing concern, “She’s barely breathing. We need to get her some medical attention!”
“We will. We also need to catch up with Wolverine,” said Phoenix, who was still using her telepathy to scan the area, “I’m still sensing something that feels wrong on way too many levels.”
“This gonna be another one of those times when Logan runs full speed into a trap?” asked Gambit.
“If what I’m sensing is any indication, it’ll be something way worse.”
Church of Humanity – Archives
Every major religion had its share of secrets. Any religion that didn’t do a good job of keeping didn’t last that long. The Church of Humanity was no different. Secrets were entrenched in their theology. Father Hansen understood there were certain things he had to conceal for the good of his congregation. That’s why he took extra precautions in guarding his church’s greatest treasure.
While the rest of the X-men met with its congregation, Father Hansen led Professor Xavier and Hank McCoy into the secure archives of his church. It was located in the basement, which he renovated shortly after purchasing the property. The most obvious modification was the extremely heavy door he installed that required two keys to open. Upon entering the archives, they encountered a more elaborate modification. The whole area was more like a lab than an archive, brightly lit with various tools neatly organized on tables and walls. There were large volumes of books and materials strewn around the area, many of which were quite diverse for a priest of any stature.
“As you can see, I’m somewhat of a hoarder. During my time as an archaeologist, I gathered various materials and artifacts,” explained Father Hansen as he led the two men into the archive.
“So it would seem,” said Professor Xavier, who took a moment to look upon a glass-encased copy of a Gutenberg Bible, “You’ve gone to quite some length to keep these materials protected.”
“While my heart is with my congregation, I still have a healthy bit of curiosity. There are a great many mysteries that remain unsolved. I like to keep my work on hand so I can continue to learn about what I preach.”
“Some of these artifacts look like they belong in a museum or university,” said Hank as he gazed upon some preserved ancient manuscripts, “How did you keep this from the Christian Science Monitor?”
“I may be a man of God, but I don’t always trust that the people at a university or the experts at a museum to investigate these finds properly. There’s a lot of dogma out there and some aren’t willing to accept new discoveries that question it. So when I formed this church, I gathered all the materials I had acquired and secured them in this building.”
“And under level two clean room conditions if the air quality is any indication,” added Hank, “How did you afford that on a pastor’s salary?”
“I didn’t. Shortly after I left Trinity College, my parents passed away and left me their real estate business. I could have lived off the fruits of their labor quite comfortably, but chose to liquidate it into a blind trust. Those funds, along with the generous contributions of my congregation, allowed me to construct this lab where I could continue my research. This leads me to the crown jewel of my church, which I’m sure you’re eager to see.”
Father Hansen led the two men into the back where there were a series of glass enclosures protecting a very particular area. There were more locks that required more keys to open. Once the door was opened and the two X-men entered, they were met with an elaborate setup for something that wasn’t very big.
Strewn on a table were a series of old parchments encased in thick layers of protective plastic. It looked as though they had been carefully pieced together and preserved. There were several stacks of them and an array of observation equipment that included a large magnifying lens and a few computers. In the center of the table was a particularly large sample of the parchment set up for close observation. Father Hansen allowed Professor Xavier and Hank McCoy to see it for themselves.
“Here it is…the text that lies at the heart of my church and its theology,” he said proudly.
“What exactly are we looking at, Father?” asked Professor Xavier curiously.
“You two are well-informed so I’ll assume you’ve heard of the Lost Gospels. When the holy bible was first canonized, only four gospels were chosen out of a pool of over thirty.”
“We’ve both read snippets of the Da Vinci code. We’re quite aware of the established history of the Christian canon,” said Hank as he scrutinized the document.
“Then you should also know that it has long been assumed that there were more gospel that had been lost to time…older gospels that contained the undiluted word of God. This is one of those gospels. It is called the Gospel of the Blessed Blood.”
“Blessed blood?” said Hank, “Am I right to assume there is some mutant connotation to this title?”
“It’s in more than just the title. Here, let me show you…”
Father Hansen stepped aside for a bit and turned on a nearby computer. While it was booting up, he adjusted the magnifying lens to focus in on a particular area of the parchment. Once the setup was ready, a series of scans were displayed on the main screen. These scans organized the largely faded text into something more readable.
“Like most of the gospels, this was written in a mix of Greek and Aramaic. What makes this manuscript so unique is that it’s actually older than the oldest parchments of the mainstream gospels, which says to me that the words were much closer to those spoken by Jesus himself.”
“Have you been able to authenticate this?” asked Hank, still looking over the parchment with heavy scrutiny.
“I’ve conducted several tests including radiocarbon dating and comparative linguistics. The text and the time frame of the parchment match up. It’s definitely from the first century,” affirmed the priest.
“Then this would certainly qualify as a discovery of biblical proportions, if that’s not too befitting a word,” commented Professor Xavier with greater intrigue.
“I can’t think of a term more appropriate. But what truly makes it special is the content of the text. It has much to say and many lessons to teach.”
Father Hansen launched another program that ran over a string of text on the computer. This text was accompanied with several translations that conveyed a powerful message with equally powerful implications.
“And so it was before the last supper that Jesus the Son sat with his disciples for one final lesson and said unto them, ‘Fear not the tribulations you’ll face. On this night I say unto you, the blood that hath been shed for God’s children doth not stop with their sacrifices. For it was after the Fall that God prepared his children for redemption. Through me, I am the way, the light, and the messenger. Through blood, his children are redeemed. It will be on this journey back to the Garden that the blood of man will be blessed by holiness. And those with blessed blood shall perform miracles; seeing that which is unseen, conjuring that which cannot be forged, and wielding the lights from the heavens themselves. The blessed shall be mocked as will those who believe. Thy faith will guide them and good shall triumph over evil. Let my followers share the burden of this struggle as I have shared yours through my blood.’ Thus hath spoken the Lord and thus his disciples hath understood.”
“The Gospel of what appears to be an unknown figure,” said Hank as he ran his hands over a certain part of the text.
“You read Aramaic, Mr. McCoy?” said Father Hansen.
“I recognize the Greek. But it would seem this text is incomplete.”
“As are most gospels of this time,” he affirmed, “However, by God’s grace, the main body of the text is preserved and to me the message is clear.”
“And what message is that, Father Hansen?” asked Charles.
The priest turned off the computer and laid out several more preserved pages of text. His hands practically shook as he laid out the fruits of a lifetime of work that tested his strength and his spirit. Yet he maintained an uncanny humility as he addressed Charles Xavier of the X-men with the conviction of a humble man of God.
“It took me years to translate this text. And as I toiled, the mutant conflict was unfolding. I don’t believe that was a coincidence. I believe God has led me to this text for a reason. It describes to me a divine plan for which you X-men will play a vital role.”
“I hope you’re not implying we’re part of some holy crusade of sorts,” said Hank warily, “With all due respect, we have not had a good experience with people mixing religious convictions with mutant issues.”
“I assure you, there is nothing apocalyptic about our roles in this plan. Mutants are capable of such extraordinary feats. You X-men are the greatest proof of this. Like Jesus himself, you seek to save the world through blood and sacrifice.”
“I don’t think that’s a fair comparison,” said the Professor humbly, “We try to make peace so that sacrifice is not necessary.”
“Your humility doesn’t do justice to your spirit, Professor. Your exploits on Genosha and your perseverance through a world wrought with sin leave little doubt. Mutants are the key to salvation. We at the Church of Humanity believe that this blessing is how mankind will achieve salvation. As you have said yourself, mutation has the potential to relieve so many ills. I believe it is part of God’s blessing. And I, along with my church, wish to be part of this divine plan.”
There was as much excitement in his tone as there was sincerity. He didn’t just believe a greater power was at work here. He believed it was pushing him to be part of the X-men’s struggle. It was somewhat overwhelming. Charles Xavier always saw his cause as a dream. Yet he could appreciate where Father Hansen was coming from. These ideals weren’t just principles to Father Hansen. They were divinely inspired and that made them all the more precious.
“I don’t know what to say, Father Hansen. Your mission is certainly ambitious,” said Xavier, who was at a rare loss.
“I’m not expecting you to embrace my theology, Professor. I’m not even expecting you to share in my belief that the hand of God is at work in your struggle,” said the priest.
“And we’re not going to start questioning that belief. You’ve already convinced me you’re quite sincere,” said Hank with an amicable smile.
“You’ve convinced me as well. But I’m still not sure what you’re asking of us.”
“I merely ask that you consider my church an ally. I hope it’s not too much, given the nature of your work. But I would be honored if you and the X-men let us help you in whatever way our spirits allow.”
It was not an unreasonable request. The X-men had so few willing allies and this church had the potential to aid them. Charles and Hank did not need to have a psychic debate over this issue. There were so many reasons to give this a chance. After what happened with Toad, the X-men needed something like this. Father Hansen had the desire and the spirit to aid them. They only needed to work out the details.
But before they could give Father Hansen their answer, a new presence entered the archives. He was wearing a black suit and a priestly robe. When he entered the back area, he breathlessly knelt before addressing them.
“Father Hansen…please forgive me for interrupting, but something has come up,” said the man breathlessly.
“Take it easy, Isaac. No need to condemn yourself,” said Father Hansen calmly.
“I know, but I must! I’ve yet to make up for my previous two transgressions. That’s why I’m starting here,” he said, still on his knees.
“Previous transgressions?” said Beast curiously, “Were you the one the others encountered in New York?”
“Yes, and I fully intend to atone, but that must wait. I overheard a phone conversation among our guests. They say your friend, Wolverine, is in grave danger!”
“Wolverine? In danger?” said Hank with a raised eyebrow.
“I swear by the holy spirit, it’s true!” he asserted, “A crisis is unfolding in Los Angeles as we speak. It sounds like it’s already approaching biblical proportions.”
He seemed very worked up. Professor Xavier sensed a troubled mind in this man, but sensed no reason to doubt him. He did a quick telepathic scan to find that Scott was on the phone with Jean at this very moment. Something had gone very wrong in their search for Toad and it needed their immediate attention.
“I believe you. I’ve just confirmed it for myself,” said Xavier, clutching his temple anxiously, “It appears we’ll have to work out the details of our partnership later.”
“I understand completely, Charles Xavier,” said Father Hanson respectfully, “Go if you must. If there’s anything we can do on our end, please let us know.”
“There isn’t much, but there is always one thing your people can do for my X-men,” said Xavier as he wheeled himself out of the room with Hank.
“What might that me, Professor Xavier, sir?” asked Isaac intently.
“Pray for us,” he said, “Because whenever something involves Weapon X, we need all the divine assistance we can get.”
Los Angeles – Thien Hau Temple
Wolverine’s pursuit of Fantomex led him clear across Chinatown. It started on several rooftops before returning to the busy streets below. Fantomex ran with uncanny speed and agility, moving so swiftly he didn’t even graze anybody as he weaved his way through the crowd. Wolverine was much more direct, shoving people out of the way in his reckless chase of this mysterious figure.
“Quit playing tag with me, bub! You gonna fight me or does your mission involve being a pussy?”
“My mission has only begun to unfold,” said Fantomex cryptically.
Every time this man spoke, it filled Wolverine with more rage. This man didn’t just reek of Weapon X. He carried himself like a product of Weapon X, but he was different from Sabretooth, Cornelius, or Deadpool. He moved in a strange mechanical nature that seemed pre-programmed. Either he was an upgrade who just came out of the shadows to torment with him or Weapon X was up to a new round of tricks.
This mission, as Fantomex called it, eventually led them to the steps of the Thien Hau Temple. It was the largest Taoist temple in the city and once they reached the entrance, Fantomex stopped running and drew his 50 caliber handguns.
“You ready to fight me now, pretty boy?!” snarled the charging Wolverine.
“More ready than you think,” said Fantomex.
With Wolverine running full speed, Fantomex opened fire. The feral mutant instinctively guarded his face with his claws. He also used some of his agility to avoid the incoming rounds. This didn’t work nearly as well as he expected. Fantomex’s aim was better than he thought. Even while he was evading, Fantomex put two rounds in his knees and three in his gut. Since the bullets were high caliber, they did a lot of damage. One round made it through his claws and struck him right in the upper chest. Even an adamantium skeleton and a healing factor couldn’t brush it off.
His attack faltered and he stumbled as he made his way towards Fantomex. He still managed to reach him and attack with his claws. Fantomex easily avoided it, only getting his white body suit slightly scratched in the process. This also left Wolverine vulnerable. Having lunged right past Fantomex, the imposing figure did a spin move that elbowed Wolverine right in his face. Then he drop kicked Wolverine right in his gut right where the bullet wounds festered. It didn’t just put add to his pain. It also sent him flying right through the doors to the temple.
“Arrrggghhhhhh!” he howled.
Bloodied and dazed, the feral mutant crashed into the very heart of the Taoist shrine. There was nobody worshipping at the moment, but the lights were on and a number of candles were lit. It was an ominous backdrop to this fight, almost as if Fantomex planned for it to unfold like this.
Despite the agony, Wolverine struggled back to his feet. He clenched his bleeding gut and urging his healing factor into overdrive. He could barely stand as Fantomex casually entered the shrine.
“This is where you will die. My mission commands it,” said Fantomex.
“That’s your mission? To kill me?” said the feral mutant dryly with blood dripping from his mouth, “You’re new to this, ain’t you?”
“New and improved if you must know,” said Fantomex, “Allow me to demonstrate.”
The imposing figure put away his guns and clenched his fists. With inhuman speed and agility he attacked Wolverine with his bare hands. The former living weapon went on the defensive, using his claws to block the incoming assault. He discovered that this man was even stronger than he looked. Each hit landed with a force that gave Sabretooth a run for his money. He deflected the first punches only to be hit with a sweep kick, knocking him off his feet again. Fantomex moved in to land another blow with his fist. Wolverine rolled out of the way and shot up, looking to counter with an attack of his own.
Ignoring his bullet wounds and painful bruises, he struck back with a string of slashes and body blows. Since Fantomex was so agile, Wolverine threw his body weight into it. This helped him land a few hits, causing more than a few scratches on Fantomex’s body suit. He even threw in a head-butt to throw his nemesis off his balance. It didn’t work as well as he hoped. Fantomex took these blows like a machine, not even grimacing.
“Some demonstration,” grunted Wolverine, choking on more blood, “This supposed to teach me a lesson?”
The feral mutant snarled. His healing factor had since closed the worst part of his bullet wounds, allowing him to strike with more power. This time he led with his claw, stabbing right for Fantomex’s chest. He plunged right through him this time. The strange figure didn’t even try to dodge it. However, it didn’t have the effect Wolverine had hoped.
“You gotta be shitting me,” he said.
“I believe this counts as one such lesson,” said Fantomex without an ounce of discomfort.
The powerful living weapon casually shoved Wolverine away, pushing out his claw in the process. In the process the former living weapon noticed that there was no blood dripping from the wound. Instead, it was this strange silverish blue fluid that had the consistency of mercury. It didn’t look natural. It didn’t look promising either.
“That ain’t your typical mutant trick,” snarled Wolverine, “What the hell did Weapon X do to you?”
“You’re in no position to ask questions and I’m in no position to give answer. I can only remind you that I am not Weapon X. I am Weapon Plus,” said Fantomex, “For my next lesson, I will render you obsolete.”
Wolverine launched another attack before the lesson could begin. Fantomex was ready for him this time. He narrowly avoided the feral mutant’s menacing claws, slipping to the side and pulling off a punishing roundhouse kick that struck Wolverine right in the head. The feral mutant stammered and tried to turn around. He only got halfway before he was met with a barrage of punishing punches and devastating kicks. Fantomex moved with both strength and speed this time, hitting him in such rapid succession that Wolverine had no chance of dodging them all.
“Ungh! Aagh! Think you can-ungh-win like this?” snarled Wolverine defiantly.
“No…more like this,” said Fantomex menacingly.
His barrage of punching and kicking was capped by a devastating drop kick that knocked Wolverine back against a wall right next to a stack of burning incense. With his target pinned and momentarily dazed, Fantomex drew both his guns again. This time there was no avoiding his attack.
With fresh clips of ammo, he fired a fury of rounds into Wolverine’s already wounded body. This time every bullet hit. They struck him all over along his feet, knees, waist, pelvis, torso, chest, arms, neck, and face. No organ, major or minor, was spared. The high caliber round introduced a level of trauma to Wolverine’s body the likes of which he never endured.
“ARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!” he howled in agony.
As one final smite, Fantomex used the final two bullets in his guns to hit Wolverine right in his eyes. This effectively blinded him so he had no means of sensing or evading his next attack. Now obscenely bloodied and mutilated with bullet holes, the former living weapon was almost unrecognizable. So much of his flesh had been blown off his metal bones and muscle tissue was visible. But it still wasn’t enough.
Wolverine was on his way to collapsing into a bloodied heap, but Fantomex didn’t let him. The cold and copulating figure put his guns away and took out two sharp combat knives. Running at his superhuman speeds, he reached Wolverine before he even fell halfway to the floor and pinned him back against the wall. Now at his mercy, Fantomex went to work with the knives. He ruthlessly and efficiently cut into his veins and arteries, spraying more blood and weakening him further.
“Your healing requires blood flow,” said Fantomex in an eerily calm tone between slashes, “I drain you of blood, I slow down your healing.”
“Hnnn…” was all Wolverine could get out at this point.
“The unfortunate part is I could probably separate most of the flesh from your bones and your body would find a way to heal. Weapon X enhanced you so that you could survive nearly anything. That is why one more ingredient is needed to decommission you permanently.”
Upon severing a few more arteries in Wolverine’s neck, Fantomex grabbed him by the arm and threw him across the room so that he was lying in the center of the shrine. Blood continued pouring from his body, quickly accumulating in a large pool. With his flesh torn and tattered, his healing struggled to keep him going. Now in no position to fight, Fantomex casually approached and took out another smaller knife from his belt.
“When I attacked your annoying little clone, I had to be just as thorough. She heals as well as you. So to taper such skills, I cut her with this special knife courtesy of a friend. The tip contains a micro-needle that injects the victim with a strong poison…one potent enough that it could kill someone of your healing ability.”
“Hnnn…Laura,” he choked out.
“Do not worry about her. She may still survive. That friend I said she may still be useful if she lives. You on the other hand…you’re an utter failure.”
“You’ve already damned yourself, Wolverine. And before I end you, I have one last message from your friend, Jonathan Wraith. He says…hopefully there’s a hell hot enough for your wretched soul.”
Clutching the blade firmly, Fantomex delivered a punishing stab right into Wolverine’s chest. He let out a gargled grunt, his throat and lungs too filled with blood to manage anything else. He was so bloodied that it was unlikely he would even feel the poison entering his body. Fantomex had to make sure every last drop was injected. He was to take no chances and make sure this relic of the past was forever laid to rest.
The poison was almost completely drained. Then Fantomex found himself thrown back by an unseen force. Had he not been so focused on Wolverine, he would have seen a very angry Jean Grey surrounded in the flames of the Phoenix Force entering the temple.
“GET AWAY FROM HIM!” she yelled with fiery eyes.
Fantomex was knocked through three walls and into a darkened room on the other side of the temple. She was inclined to pursue him and hit him with another psionic attack, but Wolverine’s dire state quickly drew her attention. She had to let Fantomex escape while she rushed over towards a truly ghastly scene.
“Damn it, Logan! Why did you have to be so…so you?” said Phoenix as she knelt over his bloodied form.
Wolverine’s burned and bloodied flesh barely clung to his metal bones. He was deathly still and clinging to his last sliver of life. It was a sickening sight, requiring a strong heart and a stronger stomach. Using her telepathy, she tried to reach out to his dying mind.
‘Don’t slip away on us now! You can heal from this! You’ve healed from far worse! Just keep fighting! Do you hear me, Logan? Logan?!’
Next Issue: Death Grip
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