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Volume 7 -- Issue 159 -- Unholy Man Part 1

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Unholy Man Part 1
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In a world that hates and fears them, the X-men use their extraordinary powers to fight for peace and understanding. Under Professor Charles Xavier’s leadership, they’ve saved the world from destruction on numerous occasions. That same leadership led to a major divide within the team.

When Professor Xavier decided to unite the X-men with the government under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, some saw this as a mistake that would lead to great danger. The X-men that have gone astray formed X-Force, a team that vows to end the Mutant Monitoring Initiative before this danger grows.

For the moment, Professor Xavier’s decision has been vindicated. The X-men scored a major victory against Sebastian Shaw. He had synthesized a potent drug known as Mutant Growth Hormone. With it, he hoped to both enhance and control mutants on a massive scale. The X-men and the MSA stopped him. They also confiscated much of his MGH supply, but this has led to some potentially new problems.

While Sebastian Shaw faces justice, the authorities seek to study MGH. It holds great potential, but some are wary of developing this drug. At the moment, Hank McCoy and Dr. Kavita Rao are studying it under SWORD, a secretive yet resourceful branch of the military. Some have voiced concerns about what this could mean for the future of mutants. Others are taking a more extreme approach.


Church of Humanity
 
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Peace be with you,” said Father Ryan Hansen.

“And also with you, Father,” said the beleaguered Idie Okankwo.

“Can we go yet?” said an impatient Laurie.

“Hey, show some respect,” said Jubilee with a scold, “This is important to Idie. Therefore, it’s important to us.”

Laurie shifted uncomfortably. She had never been much of a church-goer. She never intended to start even after her mutant powers completely unhinged her life. As part of her new life with Jubilee in District X, she was doing plenty of uncomfortable activities she never thought she would do.

That involved joining the others in a visit to the Church of Humanity for a full mass. After sitting through the procession, they stayed after to meet with Father Hansen privately. They had plenty to talk about and even though Laurie had been reluctant, she gave it a chance.

In wake of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, the Church of Humanity became more active than ever. Some of it was positive. Father Hansen saw his audiences grow over the past few months. New mutants facing hardships under this initiative needed guidance and comfort. Even regular people were joining his congregation, sometimes out of curiosity and sometimes out of spite.

There were plenty of instances where some voiced concerns about the direction humans and mutants were heading. Some were a lot more vocal than others. It never changed Father Hansen’s message that God had a plan for mutants and humans alike.

For Idie, Teon, Kenji, Gabriel, Laurie, and Jubilee, it was hard to grasp that plan. After recovering from Shaw’s influence, they started new lives in District X. Jubilee was their leader of sorts. She called them the Lights of District X because they were tasked with inspiring mutants that were doubtful of their future. Having overcome the worst of Shaw’s influence, they were in a position to inspire others.

“Peace,” said Teon as he mimicked Idie’s gestures.

“Very good, Teon. I’m surprised you didn’t try to eat all the wafers,” said Kenji.

“Guess you’re extra training with him has paid off, Idie,” said Jubilee.

“Even a basic mind can appreciate the tenants of faith,” said Father Hansen as he blessed Teon with a casual gesture.

“That or he knows we’re getting donuts for lunch,” said Gabriel with a smirk, “That’s how my parents kept me going to church every Sunday since I was five.”

“Does that not defeat the purpose?” questioned Kenji.

“It worked, didn’t it?” shrugged Gabriel, “Sorry if that sounds underhanded, Father.”

“It’s quite alright. God is not opposed to incentives,” said the priest in good humor.

“Then I’ll try to provide more so we’ll come regularly,” said Jubilee, “Bishop was right. We need something like this after the whole Shaw fiasco. I would argue that mutants everywhere need it. I noticed the pews were more crowded today.”

“That’s probably because too many mutants placed their faith in Shaw,” said Laurie, “Guess that makes him a false prophet or something.”

“From what you’ve told me, I would say that’s an accurate description,” said Father Hansen, “That’s a common problem for those who place too much faith in a fallible man. In this case, that man was carrying a lot of sin. That’s why I believe the tragedy you experienced can become a blessing if you’re willing to have faith. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding man and God. Blessed beings like yourselves are the true lights of God’s children. Don’t ever forget that.”

Jubilee and the rest of the lights smiled at the priest’s encouragement. For all the scars left by Sebastian Shaw, it helped to have some inspiration to go by. District X and many mutants like them were still recovering from Shaw’s downfall. They needed to be inspirational as well if they were to move forward.

“We won’t, Father. You can count on that,” said Idie strongly.

“And if anyone needs convincing that Sebastian Shaw wasn’t worthy of faith, I can just show them my face,” said Kenji, who was wearing a hooded coat.

“I think you’ll do much more by convincing other mutants that there is a better path. You’re already on your way. I encourage you to stay true to it,” said Father Hansen, “Now go in peace. And send my regards to Isaac when you see him.”

“Sure thing!” said Jubilee as she let the Lights out of the church, “Thanks again for putting in some extra time for us. I hope God pays overtime.”

Father Hansen laughed as he waved goodbye to the six young mutants. He took great pride in helping mutants at a time like this. The controversy surrounding the Mutant Monitoring Initiative tested the faith of many. He didn’t take sides on the issue. He had his private views, but he left the rest in the hands of the Lord.

His church now empty, Father Hansen had some research to catch up on. As he turned back towards the front pews, he noticed a figure kneeling before the front altar that wasn’t there previously. It was an elder man in a black coat and he appeared to be praying.

“Excuse me, but my sermon is over,” he told the man.

“Forgive me, oh Holy Spirit. Cleans me of my sin,” said the man in a desperate tone.

With growing concern, Father Hansen walked up to the man. He appeared troubled in a profound way.

“Sir, are you alright? Is there something I can help you with?” asked Father Hansen.

“Indeed there is, Father,” said the man in a deep tone, “You can repent.”

The man then shot up and turned around. As he did he revealed a loaded Glock pistol. Before Father Hansen could react, he fired a single shot. The powerful echo reverberated throughout the church. Father Henson’s expression was frozen as he clutched his chest over where the bullet had struck. He then fell to the floor at the feet of the mysterious man. As he bled profusely, the man revealed himself as Reverend, William Stryker.

“You made a deal with evil, Father Hansen. You of all people should know the devil will collect his dues,” said Stryker coldly as he stood over Father Hansen’s body, “May God have mercy on your soul. Take comfort in the knowledge that you shall aid me in redeeming mine.”


Southeast Asia
 
Sebastian Shaw’s reach was as vast as his greed. Now that he had been arrested, the extent of his vast enterprise was exposed. Law enforcement, government officials, and business entities all over the world were affected by his operations. The challenge was figuring out what to do with them, especially when it came to the mutants he employed.

“Please! Don’t shut us down. I need this job,” begged a desperate mutant woman as she stood before the X-men.

“Please calm down, Miss. We’re not shutting down this whole farming operation,” coaxed a somewhat overwhelmed Betsy Braddock.

“But you’re shutting down the parts that matter,” she argued, “I know it looks bleak to someone with manicured nails and overpriced perfume, but this is our livelihood. This won’t just put me out of work. It’ll rob dozens of people of what little they have!”

The X-men found themselves in an awkward position. Betsy, Gambit, and Piotr traveled to Southeast Asia with the MSA’s East Asia division. They were tasked along with numerous governments with shutting down some of Shaw’s less illegal enterprises.

In many parts of this region, Shaw Industries had massive agricultural operation. It was dirty in some ways. He usurped the land from smaller farmers, bribed local officials to overlook environmental regulations, and paid his workers horrendously low wages. Yet in other ways, it did some good that made it difficult to shut down.

The three X-men were standing in the vast field of rice patties as MSA operatives from China, Vietnam, and Thailand escorted hordes of workers out of the poorly constructed huts in the center of the property. Despite the poor conditions, many looked sad. Some were even crying.

They all claimed that this farm was one of the most productive in the region. It produced more food than all the surrounding farms combined. Shutting it down was sure to cause disruptions in the local food supply. The loss of jobs would only make it worse.

At the heart of this operation was a mutant from southern Europe. She was an elder woman with green skin, a frail disposition, and a light accent. She had the mutant ability to manipulate plant life. She feared that the Mutant Monitoring Initiative would prevent her from using her powers so she trusted Shaw to help her. Remarkably, he did as he promised. By shutting the farm down, they were shutting down something that meant a lot to her.

“Calm down, cherè. We ain’t the bad guys here,” coaxed Remy, “Besides, Betsy’s perfume ain’t that fancy.”

“You’re not helping, Remy. And I’ll thank you not to judge my shopping habits,” scolded Betsy.

“You think this is a joke?” exclaimed the woman.

“Nyet, please excuse my comrades. We’ve been handling many Shaw Industries operations lately,” said Piotr.

“I don’t know how that man ran the rest of his company and I don’t care. He gave me a job where I could make the most of my powers. I cared for these fields. I grew food for hungry people all over the world. On top of that, Shaw paid me more than I ever made in my home country. And it wasn’t just in money either. He gave me peace of mind that your government wouldn’t scrutinize my every move. It may not sound like much to you, but it means a lot to me!”

The woman was getting hysterical, so much so that the grass around her sprouted thick weeds around her feet. She had to turn away from the three X-men to prevent herself from lashing out. After taking a few deep breaths, she finally calmed down somewhat.

“You X-men think you’re doing the right thing. Shaw may have been a bad man, but he created something beautiful here. You see those people that you’re kicking off this land?” she said, pointing towards the workers, “Even though the wages were low, this was one of the few jobs they could obtain. Without this farm, they’ll be begging on the streets or worse. This whole area will suffer and for what? Because everything with Sebastian Shaw’s name is tainted? If you’re that short-sighted, then I guess you’re not really heroes anymore.”

The woman stormed off to join the solemn workers as they left the land, leaving the three X-men to digest everything she said. They came thinking they were just dismantling another one of Shaw’s sinister operations. They were learning that even greedy, power-hungry businessmen could do some good.

“This is becoming too common,” said Piotr, “These mutants and these people should not have to pay for Shaw’s crimes.”

“If you have an alternative, I would love to hear it,” said Betsy with a sigh, “We have our orders. We need to expose all of Shaw’s illegal activities. That way we can be sure he stays in jail.”

“There’s evil, there’s illegal, and then there’s this,” said Piotr as he looked back towards the workers, “In my home country, jobs like this were hard. People toiled endlessly for little pay, but that little pay was better than nothing. Losing their jobs is what turned many to the Russian Mob.”

“I’m sure even they did some good for people. That doesn’t make it right,” argued Betsy.

“That’s not the point! The mob is criminal. Shaw is a businessman. His greed, like it or not, helped these people. This isn’t the first time either. I remember that mutant with yellow skin throwing rocks at us because we shut down one of Shaw’s mining operations. Then there were those four mutants working at that offshore oil rig in the Persian Gulf. They threatened to blow themselves up if we didn’t leave.”

“So Shaw didn’t screw everyone over,” Betsy conceded, “It’s not like anything we’re dismantling can’t be rebuilt.”

“That’s assuming the Mutant Monitoring Initiative will let them,” said Remy.

“Well, why wouldn’t they?”

“That’s damn good question. On top of that, we might as well ask why only Shaw seemed to employ mutants on this here level?” said the Cajun as he gestured over the field, “Even before the initiative, something had to be wrong for him to be the only game in town.”

His logic was painfully coherent. Betsy hated it when he did that when they were dating. In a situation like this, it was almost as bad. The more she thought about it, the harder it was to ignore.

“Beyond the logistical concerns, I think there’s a more important question relating to mutants. Will anyone be able to give mutants what Shaw offered?” questioned Piotr.

“I don’t know. I’m sure there are plenty of other blokes as greedy as Sebastian Shaw,” said Betsy, getting frustrated with this debate.

“Maybe there are. That don’t mean they’ll do it. Even if they wanna, some folks may not let ‘em,” said Remy.

“So now you and Piotr are Ayan Rand fans?” scoffed Betsy.

“Non, Remy’s just saying that like it or not, Shaw found a way for mutants to profit from their powers. As a former thief, Remy knows the value of profit. It ain’t always in dollar signs either. Shaw helped them live their lives on their terms. How can anyone offer that with things the Mutant Monitoring Initiative in their way?”

Betsy was ready to throw her hands up. She still favored having people answer to the law. Sometimes the law screwed people over by proxy. It wasn’t fair, but what was the alternative? Even when they did good by arresting men like Sebastian Shaw, they still found a way to cause problems.

Having complicated their mission enough for one day, the three X-men were ready to leave with a sense of unease. There were still plenty of Shaw Industries operations to investigate. It probably wasn’t going to get any easier. They were about to catch up with their MSA allies. Then Betsy’s cell phone went off.

“Bloody hell, I’ve never been so relieved to get a phone call before,” she said.

“Better hope it ain’t another one of Shaw’s ex-employees,” teased Remy.

“You’re as ass, Remy. No wonder we broke up,” sighed Betsy.

Remy shrugged innocently, which earned him somewhat of a chuckle from Piotr. They turned around to give Betsy some space. As she listened in, however, her demeanor quickly changed.

“What…slow down, Storm. What do you mean…are you sure? Who in the hell would do something like this? Have you…right, I figured. Do you know if he’ll be okay? Or will…I understand. We’ll get there as soon as possible!”

With new urgency, she put away her phone and caught up with Remy and Piotr again. Having heard part of her conversation, they were now both interested and worried.

“What is it, Betsy? Is something wrong?” asked Piotr.

“It’s Father Hansen. He’s…he’s been shot!” she said, still in shock.

“What? Who would do such a thing?” gasped the Russian.

“Remy could think of a number of folk,” muttered Remy, “How bad is it?”

“I’ll fill you in once we’re on the X-jet,” said Betsy, already leading her teammates to the jet they had parked in a clearing, “He’s still alive, but critical!”

“How critical?” asked Piotr.

“Well if he’s a true man of God, then he’s dangerous close to meeting him.”


New York Memorial Hospital – Intensive Care Unit

“By the blood of the Savior, someone shall pay dearly for this!” exclaimed a distraught Isaac.

“Please Isaac…your anger isn’t helping,” said a solemn Charles Xavier.

“I know it isn’t! But what are we to do? Stand here while Father Hansen is at the very gates of death?”

“Just continue praying for him. I’m sure that’s what he would want,” said Ororo with a comforting gesture.

Isaac’s outrage was shared by many. Shortly after receiving the news of Father Hansen’s condition, the X-men rushed to the hospital. Professor Xavier convinced Captain Freeman to secure a private jet that took them to New York City. Ororo, Jean, and Rogue flew with him. Betsy, Remy, and Piotr arrived an hour later from Southeast Asia. They were told the same ghastly story.

It happened very quickly. Jubilee and her Lights weren’t even clear of the church when they heard the gunshot. They quickly ran back inside only to find a wounded Father Hansen and no shooter. They called the police and an ambulance. Idie, Teon, and Jubilee stayed with him while the rest of the Lights returned to District X.

As soon as Isaac found out, he rushed to the hospital as fast as he could get a cab to take him. He arrived just as the doctors finished operating on him. They had removed the bullet, but it was not clear whether he would survive.

“Father Hansen…forgive us,” said Idie solemnly as she sat by his bed, “We should’ve been there to protect you.”

“Don’t even begin to blame yourself, Idie,” said Jubilee, “It takes a sick mind to shoot a man of God. It would have happened no matter who was protecting him.”

“But who would want to?” she said with tears in her eyes, “I get that some don’t like his kind of preaching, but what sadistic soul would go this far?”

“Fight?” replied Teon as he nuzzled the distraught Idie.

“Teon might not be that far off,” said Jubilee as she turned back towards the X-men, “I’m guessing someone wanted to pick a fight. We’re gonna make them sorry they did, right guys?”

“Believe me, they’ll be sorry. It’s just a matter of finding out who we have to hunt down,” said Jean Grey as she stood on the other side of Father Hansen’s bed, “He’s still alive. That means there’s enough activity in his brain to reveal what he saw the moment he was shot.”

“I’m more interested in the who,” said Rogue, “If someone’s calling us out, we gotta respond.”

“That’s assuming this homme has a plan and that plan makes sense, cherè,” said Remy, who stayed close to his girlfriend.

“No. This can’t be some mindless act of violence!” said Idie strongly, “God wouldn’t allow that to happen. Would he?”

“No…he wouldn’t,” said Isaac strongly.

The young girl’s eyes glowed ominously in her anguish. A tear flowed down one side of her face and a small ice cube formed on the other, representing the contrasting nature of of Idie’s powers. They seemed to reflect her mood as her outrage sank in.

She had to lean on Jubilee and Teon for comfort. However, Isaac accepted no such support. He just solemnly clutched the lifeless hand of his pastor, praying for both Father Hansen’s salvation and destruction to whoever did this to him.

It was hardship of a very personal nature. The X-men had been so busy taking care of logistical matters in wake of Sebastian Shaw’s arrest that they overlooked the smaller matters. Father Hansen was more than just a friend. He preached a message of peace that resonated with humans and mutants alike. After their ordeal with Sebastian Shaw, their spirits couldn’t take such a blow.

“This is terrible, Charles,” said Ororo, “Beyond a wounded friend, I shutter to imagine the kind of backlash this will incur once word spreads.”

“I’m sure riots in District X are forming as we speak,” said Betsy, “The timing couldn’t be worse either. It’s coming on the heels of losing Shaw’s phony charity.”

“It’ll be a crisis of faith in more than one way. That much we can be sure of,” lamented Xavier as he watched over Father Hansen’s prone form, “General Grimshaw said he was already deploying riot containment units to mutant communities, including District X. He agrees that finding the shooter quickly will be the best way to contain it.”

“I am not too concerned about containing anything. Whoever did this must face justice, riots or no riots,” said Piotr strongly.

“And they will,” assured Professor Xavier, “It’s only a matter of finding the shooter before their trail goes cold.”

“Then why is Jean still scanning Father Hansen’s mind?” questioned Betsy, “If you weren’t able to pick up on something, then why would she?”

“Hey, I can still hear you guys!” said a frustrated Jean Grey, “Give me some peace and quiet. I’ll find something.”

Professor Xavier shook his head and turned away from the sight. Ever since the Shaw mission, Jean had been on edge. It was as if she were trying to prove that she was the same powerful psychic before the Phoenix Force went dormant. She was only frustrating herself further because Professor Xavier knew that Father Hansen was too wounded to reveal anything.

Remy and Rogue lingered closely to Jean. Isaac continued praying with Idie and Jubilee sitting across from him. Professor Xavier chose to give them some space so he could address the rest of his X-men. Given the fragile nature of their cause, they needed a plan they could act on soon.

“Say Jean doesn’t find anything,” said Ororo under her breath, “What’s our next move, Charles?”

“That’s what I’ve been wondering, Ororo,” said Professor Xavier, “Captain Freeman is working with the NYPD to investigate the scene. He said that based on his assessment, the shot was fired by someone who wasn’t exactly a trained killer. Father Hansen wouldn’t be alive if he was.”

“So I guess this mean we can rule out assassins and the Brotherhood,” Betsy surmised, “Could it really be just some random redneck who doesn’t like all the good press the Mutant Monitoring Initiative has been getting lately?”

“It’s possible, but doubtful,” said Professor Xavier, “I believe that Jubilee may be right in her assessment. Someone is trying to provoke us.”

“Well I’d say they succeeded,” said Piotr bitterly.

“But that makes even less sense,” said Betsy, putting her criminology skills to use, “If someone wanted to pick a fight, they would have left a message or something. Just shooting a man doesn’t reveal much.”

“Perhaps there’s something we overlooked?” questioned Ororo.

“It’s possible,” said Professor Xavier as he pondered further, “I’m more interested in who would have the audacity of such provocation.”

“Perhaps they just have a death wish,” Piotr suggested.

“That would be convenient, but I doubt it,” said Betsy, “Somewhere along the line, some sick bloke thought they could send a message. They’re probably ready for a response and just waiting for us to catch up with them!”

“Then we had best not let them down,” said Ororo strongly, “Something will turn up. We may just not be looking in the right places.”

“That still begs the question…where haven’t we looked?” asked Xavier.

The pressure was on to uncover a solution and this time it didn’t come from anxious government officials. Their personal stake in the battle was all the motivation they needed. There had to be something they missed. If someone were bold enough to call out the X-men, they had to have left a clue of sorts.

While the team agonized over such details, the door to the unit opened and a female surgeon entered. She was the one who had been tasked with treating Father Hansen since he came in and it looked like she was nervous about something.

“Professor Xavier…we need to talk,” said the surgeon anxiously.

“What is it, doctor? Has Father Hansen’s prognosis changed?” asked Professor Xavier.

“No, he’s still critical. My team is still analyzing the post-op damage. But while I was cataloging all the procedures, I noticed something about the bullet we extracted,” she said.

“I thought it was a standard nine-millimeter slug,” said Betsy.

“Yes, we thought so as well. But the copper casing around the bullet had been altered,” the surgeon explained, “Initially, the bullet was a hallow-point. That meant that as soon as it impacted the victim, it should have expanded and done more damage. But it didn’t. Someone with a proficient understanding of firearms created a secondary casing. This casing kept the bullet from warping. It also protected something inside.”

“So there was something was actually inside the bullet?” said Ororo with growing intrigue.

“See for yourself,” said the doctor as she held out her hand, “It was written on special paper that could resist the impact. I think it’s meant for you X-men.”

“How do you figure?” asked Piotr.

“Because it’s addressed to you,” she said ominously.

Now both curious and a little disturbed, Professor Xavier took the bullet in his hand. He noticed it had already been opened. A tiny slip of paper had been rolled up so that it was no bigger than a thimble. As he unrolled it, the others crowded around him. Xavier held it up to the light so they too could see what it said and who was responsible for it.

“God will damn you and so shall I, X-men,” Professor Xavier read, squinting so he could read the text, “Meet at Purity Church. Reverend William Stryker.”

As soon as Xavier said this name, a wave of outraged filled the room. Jean, Idie, Teon, Rogue, Remy, and Jubilee all turned their attention to the Professor. Isaac had already shot up in a blind rage.

“Stryker! That unholy blasphemer!” exclaimed Isaac, “I should have known someone with so dark a soul was behind this.”

“I have to say it’s disgustingly appropriate,” grunted Jubilee.

“I remember that name,” said Idie, who was a bit more confused, “He’s that man who used to work for the President, right?”

“That was until President Kelly found out he was too zealous, even for government,” muttered Rogue, “That fella just ain’t satisfied with mutants not being in Hell!”

“Well, I shall be happy to lead him,” seethed Isaac, “He has already told us his location. I say we oblige him and send him to the Devil where he can be properly punished!”

“That won’t be necessary, Isaac,” said Professor Xavier, offering a calming gesture to the enraged holy man, “Stryker asked for us. Not you.”

“He attacked the blessed! He attacked my mentor and friend!” exclaimed Isaac, “Do not deny me this righteous battle!”

“Isaac please,” said Rogue in a more empathic tone, “Someone needs to stay behind and pray for Father Hansen. Ah think he would want that someone to be you.”

Isaac’s lips quivered with anguish. He clenched his fists, wanting nothing more than to unleash his righteous fury on William Stryker. Rogue placed a hand on his shoulders. As someone who had worked with him and grown fond of him, she was strong enough to pull him back in more ways than one. Eventually, he held his head low and sighed.

“God, give me the strength to channel this anger,” he said solemnly.

“If it makes you feel better, we’ll be sure to break a few extra bones,” said Betsy.

“The only consolation I will accept is seeing that false prophet brought to justice,” said Isaac.

“And he will be,” assured Charles Xavier, “I’ll contact Captain Freeman. We’ll organize a focused assault on Stryker’s church and bring him in just as we did Sebastian Shaw.”

“I expect it to be every bit as satisfying,” said Piotr.

“But like Shaw, this could be a trap,” said Ororo, “Stryker has been laying low since that CIA ordeal with Henry Gyrich. Why would he make such a brazen move to draw us out at a time like this?”

“Maybe our recent success has him panicking. Maybe he thinks he can turn the tide against us by provoking the X-men?” Betsy speculated.

“Or maybe he’s gone that crazy believing his god has failed him,” said Jubilee, rolling her eyes.

“Well, maybe if you guys gave me some more time, I could get a few more clues from Father Hansen’s memory,” said Jean, still frustrated with her telepathic probe.

“Give it a rest already, Jean. You ain’t going to find anything,” said Rogue dryly.

“We don’t know that yet,” she said.

“She’s right, Jean. We have the information we need,” said Professor Xavier, “Let Father Hansen’s mind heal on its own.”

Jean reluctantly halted her psychic probe. She was almost as frustrated as she was outraged. Her inability to push her powers as she had with the Phoenix once again hindered her. If Ororo was right and Stryker was setting a trap for them, then they needed all the information they could extract. It didn’t look like she was going to get it. As was the case with Shaw, the X-men were prepared to walk into another trap.

Swallowing her frustration, Jean joined the Professor with Rogue and Remy. He, Piotr, Betsy, and Ororo were eager to get moving as well. Isaac, Jubilee, Idie, and Teon remained by Father Hansen’s bedside. Reverend Stryker was brazen enough to draw the wrath of the X-men. They had no intention of disappointing him.

“I hope you’ll continue praying for our friend,” Professor Xavier continued as he addressed the rest of his X-men, “He’s a good man who embodies the spirit of the X-men’s dream. Reverend Stryker thinks he can damage that spirit. Let’s prove him wrong.”

“Oh we will! No trap is gonna keep meh from getting a few shots on this unholy asshole!” said Rogue as she eagerly cracked her knuckles.

“Wait,” said Idie, stepping forth before the X-men could leave.

“Idie, if you’re going to ask to tag along, I’m inclined to hogtie you,” said Jubilee.

“It’s not that,” she said, “But if Stryker is setting a trap like you suspect, then take Teon with you. He’s like a blood hound. If something’s wrong, he’ll sniff it out.”

“Me? fight?” said Teon, who looked surprised by Idie’s request.

“Indeed,” said Isaac, offering a supporting gesture to Teon, “At least one of us should go along on this divine mission.”

Professor Xavier was normally inclined to reject such a request. However, the idea of walking into a trap without an added countermeasure seemed detrimental. Even with the MSA backing them up, there was no telling what kind of damage Stryker could do. After only some brief contemplation, Xavier made his decision.

“Very well. Teon may accompany us,” said Professor Xavier, “We may need his instincts to give us a leg up over Stryker.”

“So you willing to let a fella with poor impulse control, durability, and heighten senses tag along? I think someone misses Wolverine,” teased Remy.

“Me fight! Me fight!” said Teon eagerly as he joined the X-men.

“Well he’s already more well-mannered than Wolverine, so why not?” shrugged Betsy.

The primal mutant seemed enthusiastic about joining the X-men. He was an unusual case to say the least, but he carried himself like a loyal blood hound. That could come in handy against a man as devious as William Stryker.

“He may be tough, but look after him anyways,” said Jubilee, “I’ll head back to District X. I’m sure Bishop and Multiple will need help keeping the peace until this insanity is resolved.”

“We’ll provide updates on Father Hansen’s health as well,” said Idie.

“Understood,” said Professor Xavier with a nod, “We’ll try to resolve this matter quickly. Reverend Stryker is an unstable soul who isn’t afraid to take drastic measures. His misguided crusade must be stopped once and for all!”


Wright Patterson Air Force Base – Holding Cell
 
‘These foolish, deluded pawns. Do they truly believe they can contain a king? They can attack my wealth. They can block my mutant abilities. But they will never usurp the Black King!’

Outrage and humiliation were unfamiliar feelings for Sebastian Shaw. Once a modern-day king, he was now reduced to the level of a glorified inmate. He no longer wore elaborate, custom-made clothes. His only attire was an orange jumpsuit with a number on it.

He no longer had the power return the punishment others tried to inflict on him many times over. His powers were inhibited thanks to a special collar around his neck and a dampening field around an eight-by-twelve-foot cell. It was no life fit for a king. Thanks to a fateful betrayal, his entire kingdom was crumbling.

The X-men, the MSA, and many governments all over the world were making it their crusade to see him prosecuted. They went to great lengths to ensure that he remained in custody. They did not keep him in a regular prison. They didn’t even put him in other mutant prisons where others like Toad were housed.

While he was preparing to go on trial, the MSA worked with the Pentagon to keep him housed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. They constructed a special holding area just for containing him. It would be flattering if it wasn’t so pathetic. He was never allowed out of his cell and his every move was highly scrutinized. If he was going to use his vast resources to escape, the authorities weren’t going to make it easy for him.

Every spare moment was spent contemplating his escape and eventual return to power. In his confined cell, he had little to do besides sleep and pace. He had been walking around in circles for the past hour, thinking about how he ended up here. A single betrayal led him here. That betrayal was the key to everything.

‘I will not be reduced to a pawn. How could HE betray me? He had so much to gain from my success. My spies never reported anything out of the ordinary. Then again, I lost more spies on this deal than any other. What was his motive? What could he have to gain by going back on our deal?’

As Shaw paced, a trio of guards appeared at the front of his cell. His whole containment unit was basically a big metal box with power dampeners built into it. The front part was made of transparent bulletproof. Whenever Shaw had a visitor, they had to speak to him through a special intercom. It was noisy so it always interrupted his thoughts.

“Mr. Shaw, you have a visitor,” said one of the officers, “Another pen pal from the Justice Department has a few questions.”

“Oh what fun,” said Shaw dryly, “Don’t they get tired of harassing me?”

“Near as I can tell, it’s their new favorite pastime,” quipped another guard, “You know the rules. The dampeners are up. Your collar is still on as a failsafe. Try anything and you’re only mutant power will involve bullet holes.”

“No need to talk down to me. You’re bad at it anyways,” quipped Shaw, “Send her in. Let’s get this over with.”

Shaw stopped pacing and stared distantly at the wall behind his bed. With his back turned to the guards, they opened the elaborate series of locks that caused the glass door to slide open. They all stood by carefully to make sure that Shaw didn’t try anything.

They kept their assault rifles ready even as a neatly dressed woman with dark hair, thick-rimmed glasses wearing a gray pants suit entered. She looked like a standard government agent from the Justice Department.

“Mind if we have a little privacy, gentlemen?” asked the woman, “I must speak with my client with some margin of candor.”

“This isn’t a conjugal visit. We’ll turn our backs, but don’t forget that every square inch of this area is being recorded,” said the lead guard.

“That’s fine. This won’t take long. It all depends on how stubborn Mr. Shaw is willing to be.”

The guards scoffed, not envying the woman’s task. They still honored her request, turning their backs and giving them some space. Shaw seemed unaffected by it. He wasn’t inclined to make use of it. He didn’t seem to care either. Even as the woman approached, Shaw kept staring at his wall. Soon, a humored grin formed on his face.

“You can drop the façade, Emma. I know it’s you,” said Shaw.

“Don’t make me spoil this elaborate disguise that I’ve psychically conjured. You know better than most that I don’t like hiding my womanly figure,” said the cold voice of Emma Frost.

“The cameras are still watching, Emma. If you want to put on one of your old shows, I won’t stop you,” he said in a taunting tone.

“All cameras and sensors have been taken care of. It’s amazing what some of my gifted computer savvy students will do for extra credit,” she said.

“You’re making your students accessories to infiltration and deception? It seems you’ve taken much of what I taught you to heart.”

“Don’t start with me, Shaw. As far as the world is concerned, Emma Frost is back in Boston tending to her students. If I can get a student to deceive this base’s security system, I can surely get him to cover up a gruesome murder in your cell.”

Sebastian Shaw kept grinning as he turned to face his former pupil. She let down some of her disguise, revealing that part of it was a psychic illusion. Her blond hair and ample cleavage became more readily apparent. She woman was another product of betrayal. He made sure that she paid a price for that betrayal. Even in a prison cell, Shaw still took a sick satisfaction in his work.

“My sweet, vindictive Emma,” he taunted, “You turned down a chance to be my queen, yet you still act like one. It would be sad if it wasn’t so poetic.”

“You think my threats are empty?” she said coldly, “If I recall, you also taught me how to torture my enemies.”

“And you learned quite well,” said Shaw casually, “It shows in how willing you are to break into my holding cell. I don’t want to imagine how many laws that breaks. I’m sure it won’t set a good example for your students or your children. How are your little Cuckoos by the way?”

“Don’t you dare mention them!” exclaimed Emma as she grabbed Shaw by the collar, “I have every right to torture you just for what you did to them.”

“Even if that were true, I know you won’t,” he said smugly.

“What makes you so damn sure?”

“Because I have something you want,” he told her, “You wouldn’t have risked this elaborate ploy just to torture me. Even you’re not that arrogant.”

Emma glared angrily at the devious man before her. Her every nerve ached to put Sebastian Shaw in a world of pain. For everything he had done, there was no torture that could do justice to all his victims. Those victims included her and her daughters. Emotions ran high, but she was on a mission on behalf of X-Force. As much as she hated him, she needed Shaw in one piece.

“You’re going to suffer for your crimes, Shaw. I swear on the lives of every daughter you took from me, you will be punished accordingly! But it won’t be today,” she said as she let go of his collar.

“That’s fine with me. Gives me more time to address less trivial concerns,” said Shaw casually.

“Yes. Let’s talk about those concerns,” said Emma in a more serious tone, “Namely the ones that led you to this luxurious jail cell in the first place.”

“You’re not just going to rip the information from my mind? Honestly, Emma, I’m disappointed. I thought you were more ambitious than that.”

“Oh believe me, I would love to render you a drooling, brain-dead vegetable. However, I’d rather not risk lowering the dampening fields. I don’t trust that a single power-inhibiting collar will restrain your trickery.”

“You almost sound afraid.”

“And you sound more smug than usual,” she quipped, “You know what I’m capable of and if you’re serious about escaping justice, you’ll want to keep your mind in once piece. That’s why you had best tell me what I want to know.”

“What’s to stop you from tormenting me anyways?” Shaw shrugged.

“Because contrary to your astronomical arrogance, I’m not your queen,” said Emma strongly, “I’m not as sadistic as you. Although at times, I wish I were.”

Shaw kept grinning. No matter what Emma Frost did to him, his influence on her was apparent. She didn’t want to be like him, yet in doing so she had to spare him her wrath. It was pathetic, but it worked in his favor.

“Oh I could listen to your wishful thinking all day, Emma. But seeing as how I have so few visitors, why don’t we cut to the chase?” said Shaw.

“So you’re going to make this easy on yourself for once?” she said.

“That depends,” he replied, “You see, in this case we may both be the pawns in a much larger chess match. If you insist on seeking the true king, then why should I stand in your way? However, when you hear about the kind of players involved, you may think twice.”


White House – Oval Office
 
In certain lines of work, there were bound to be piles of skeletons accumulating in the darkest recesses of the darkest places. Politics had more than its share, but there were certain conflicts that even the most powerful leaders on the planet avoided. It wasn’t always that they couldn’t be confronted. It was the fallout they would incur if they did so.

The arrest of Sebastian Shaw offered a treasure trove of dirty secrets. All major media outlets were ablaze with scandals. There were reports of Shaw’s decadent lifestyle, corruption that ran through the highest levels of government, and business practices that justified every negative stereotype of greedy businessmen. Some of those secrets had major implications. A select few would be especially dangerous if they ever came to light.

General Grimshaw had been privy to some of the most sensitive information revealed by Shaw during his interrogation. One such revelation was so serious that he had to pull President Kelly out of a meeting to address it.

“This better be important, General. I’m in the middle of babysitting a conflict between Russia, China, India, and Pakistan,” said President Kelly impatiently upon stepping out of a meeting room.

“You know I wouldn’t interrupt the next diplomatic crisis unless it was something serious,” he said under his breath, “It’s about Sebastian Shaw.”

“What now? Did he admit to bribing the entire Supreme Court?” groaned the President.

“No, but it has the potential to be just as bad,” said the General, “It involves one of Uncle Sam’s long-time business partners. And if Shaw isn’t leading us on, it could reverberate severely for both this government and countless others.”

General Grimshaw proceeded to hand the President a folder with an ominous seal on top. The seal was recognized by many within the government that only a select few were allowed to see. President Kelly was one of them. When he opened the file, the first page alone revealed enough to make him grimace.

“White Cell? They were doing business with Shaw as well?” said President Kelly, trying to contain his outrage.

“I’m afraid it runs much deeper than that.”

“How deep?” he questioned.

“My people and I are still working on that. But if we can corroborate Shaw’s testimony, then we’re all in a tight spot with no room to breathe.”

“How soon before you can verify it?” asked the President.

“Sooner rather than later,” said General Grimshaw strongly, “I’ll have a full report by the end of the week, along with some options.”

“Don’t bother with options,” said President Kelly as she shoved the file back into General Grimshaw’s hands, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one viable recourse. And that’s no action. Is that clear?”

General Grimshaw dreaded that recourse, but he could hardly blame the President in this instance. They risked setting off a domino effect that would undermine so many levels of government. There was also a significant risk that by doing nothing, some very well-connected people could do a lot of damage. It left General Grimshaw in a difficult position that he was obligated to uphold.

“I understand, Mr. President,” said General Grimshaw, hiding his reservations.

“Good, then take care of it,” said President Kelly as he prepared to return to the meeting, “And while you’re at it, make sure that Charles Xavier and the X-men don’t find out about this. I don’t care if you have to lobotomize Shaw and cut out his vocal chords. This is one conflict best left unresolved.”


Northern California – Purity Church
 
Emotions ran high as the X-men neared Reverend Stryker’s location. Father Hansen’s condition weighed heavily on them. There was a sentiment that this would be an endgame for William Stryker. He had been discredited and no longer wielded major power. He was still prepared to commit atrocities in the name of his twisted theology. If he wanted to make a final stand, then the X-men would be there to meet him.

“Watch over us, God. But more importantly, watch other Father Hansen,” said Rogue with a solemn prayer.

“I think the preacher be getting enough prayers, cherè,” said Gambit, who comforted her for much of the trip.

“Ah know. One more couldn’t hurt,” she said distantly.

“Well save some of them prayers for this here mission,” said the Cajun, “Remy don’t mean to make light of it, but I still ain’t used to you praying.”

“That makes two of us,” she sighed, “Ah was never the prayin’ type until Isaac showed meh what Ah was doing wrong. Ah’ve had a wounded spirit for most of mah life. Ah don’t need fellas like Stryker wounding it again.”

Her spirit was shared by the rest of the team, who carried with them a heavy personal burden as the X-jet landed in a clearing. Professor Xavier and Storm were in the cockpit. Phoenix, Rogue, Gambit, Colossus, and Psylocke were in the passenger area. Teon sat next to Phoenix, who looked like a hungry wolf ready to hunt its prayHe had no training and a personality that was as unorthodox as it was basic.

“Fight close! Fight close!” he snarled as the X-jet landed.

“Easy there, Teon. Don’t get ahead of us,” said Phoenix, who kept coaxing him to stay in his seat, “You’ll get your chance like the rest of us.”

“At least he’s not chewing on his seatbelt anymore,” commented Colossus, “Idie was right about his mind being very basic.”

“You know the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this is a good idea,” questioned Psylocke, “This kid may have instinct, but the lack of a working frontal lobe concerns me. That says nothing about the rest of his personality quirks.”

“I think he deserves a chance,” said Phoenix, “Sometimes you need a guy on the team who won’t overthink. Wolverine is proof of that.”

“Well he’s a long way from having Wolverine’s grit,” said Betsy as she looked over towards Teon, watching his expression shift as he took in the situation, “At least he may have better manners than Wolverine in the long run.”

“Mate?” said Teon as he looked over at Psylocke.

“Okay, I take back what I just said,” she said, rolling her eyes.

It was a humorous exchange, but Psylocke raised some legitimate concerns. Some of them were shared by Captain Jack Freeman, who sat at the front of the passenger area going over the mission.

His involvement with this affair was different compared to the rest of the X-men. They picked him up in Washington DC before heading towards Stryker’s location. As field leader of the team, he was obligated to be part of this operation. However, he didn’t have the same personal stake. That might not have been a bad thing. As he led them out of the X-jet, he expressed some serious doubts about this mission.

“Manners aside, let’s clear the air before we do this,” said Captain Freeman as he walked out ahead of the team, “Reverend William Stryker is an unstable man. General Grimshaw told me all about him when he first started working with President Kelly. As the Mutant Monitoring Initiative has grown, we’ve been pouring gasoline on that fire of insanity that he calls religion.”

“That’s still no excuse to shoot Father Hansen,” said Rogue bitterly.

“I don’t think he cares for excuses. That attack was a means to an end…a way of making us come to him,” said the Green Beret, “I’m more than willing to confront insane religious zealots, but what bothers me is the method. Zealous or not, does he really think pissing off is enemies is going to gain him anything? I thought this guy was supposed to be careful with his madness.”

“I’ve been wondering that myself, Captain,” said Storm, “Hank and Tessa worked with the NSA to track this man. He’s always been resourceful with his so-called Purifiers.”

“After what happened with the CIA, I figured his resources had been cut off,” said Phoenix.

“They were,” said Professor Xavier, “We made sure of it as soon as the Mutant Monitoring Initiative was implemented.”

“I don’t see why that would stop him,” said Colossus, “He’s had all this time to gather himself. Perhaps he is desperate to strike?”

“Even if that was the case, I can’t help but think there’s something else at work,” said Captain Freeman, “Coming on the heels of the Shaw affair, it just seems too convenient.”

“Well why would it? I don’t see Sebastian Shaw as being a man that Stryker would get along with,” said Psylocke.

“I don’t think this is a simple case of affiliation. It strikes me more as an unintended consequence,” said Professor Xavier, who picked up on similar vibes as they neared the church, “Stryker saw fit to attack us know while the dust is still settling from the Shaw case. We need to be prepared for a few surprises that my complicate our mission.”

Storm, Phoenix, Rogue, Gambit, Colossus, and Psylocke took that advice to heart as they mentally prepared themselves for this clash. Captain Freeman and Professor Xavier led the way with Teon by their side. The primal mutant was already following his instincts, sniffing around the ground and looking for signs of disturbances. In an area like this, there were many opportunities for Stryker to surprise them.

Purity Church was once a normal church, but Stryker had done many renovations in recent times. He fenced off much of the land, creating a rectangular barrier around the property. The building itself looked like a classic mega-church, one that stood much larger than a typical chapel. It spoke volumes to the kind of power and money that Stryker once had.

The building looked like the size of a high school football stadium. It had two levels and a dome-shaped roof. The sides and windows looked somewhat dilapidated. There was little sign of activity and there was no evidence that any sermon had taken place in months.

“Looks like Stryker has been gettin’ cheap,” commented Gambit, “It don’t look like there be much preaching here lately.”

“I wouldn’t jump to conclusions just yet,” said Xavier as he used his telepathy to scan the area, “Near as I can tell, the building has a healthy bit of psionic shielding. I can’t sense anything inside.”

“Me neither,” said Phoenix, who was doing the same, “It’s not the most elaborate shielding by a long shot. Give me about fifteen minutes and I’ll break it.”

“Don’t bother, Phoenix,” said Rogue, “After shootin’ Father Hansen, Ah doubt he has much to hide.”

“You don’t think I can do it?” questioned Phoenix defensively.

“Knock it off, Jean. You don’t have to keep trying to prove yourself without the Phoenix Force,” said Psylocke, rolling her eyes, “It’s childish.”

Phoenix scolded her friend for such a remark. The situation with her powers was still a touchy subject. After her weak showing against Shaw, she was intent on proving herself again on another mission. It didn’t look like she would get her chance here.

As they reached the front of the gate, Teon stopped them. He started growling as he looked around. He definitely sensed something and it wasn’t psychic in nature.

“No fight! No fight!” he said frantically.

“What is it, Teon? What do you sense?” asked Professor Xavier.

“Do we need to give him a doggy treat or something?” commented Captain Freeman.

“Foot! Step! Men! Fight!” Teon growled.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” wondered Gambit.

From beyond the gate, the doors to the mega-church burst open. They revealed eight men in tatted Purifier uniforms. They weren’t armed. They looked like they had just returned from a war zone. When they saw the X-men, they let out a mad if not desperate cry.

“They’re here! They’ve returned to finish us off!” exclaimed one of the Purifiers.

“Their cruelty is matched only by their sin!” said another.

“We will not succumb to the damned!” said another, “For God and humanity, let us send them back to their dark master!”

With determination fueled by religious fervor, the eight man charged towards the X-men in a rage. With no weapons, they wielded baseball bats and heavy planks of wood. It was a far cry from what the Purifiers usually utilized, but the X-men still took the threat seriously.

“Why are they saying that we’ve returned?” wondered Storm.

“Did we kick their ass before and completely forget about it?” asked Rogue.

“No, there’s something else going on here,” said Professor Xavier, “Their minds are traumatized. I can’t…”

“We’ll figure that out later…after we’ve brought them in for questioning,” said Captain Freeman as he cracked his knuckles, “X-men, take them down before…”

But before the Green Beret could finish, Teon launched his own attack Purifiers.

“FIGHT!” he roared.

“No Teon! Down boy!” said Psylocke.

It was no use. Teon followed his powerful instincts and attacked the charging men head on. He grabbed baseball bats from two of them and bent them with his strength. Undaunted, the two Purifiers tried to attack him with their bare hands. Teon skillfully leapt over them and crashed their heads together in a way that knocked them out. The Purifiers never stood a chance.

Despite Teon’s show of strength, the six other Purifiers charged the X-men with reckless abandon. Captain Freeman and Professor Xavier saw a very different kind of fight before them. This wasn’t an overwhelmingly powerful enemy. This was an enemy determined to make a last stand.

“Ah gotta say, Ah like Teon’s style,” grinned Rogue.

“Are you going to tell us to be gentle, Captain?” asked Psylocke.

Before Captain Freeman answered, two of the Purifiers armed with metal plumbing pipes aimlessly attacked. With little strategy or coordination, they struck both Rogue and Colossus. The two durable mutants barely flinched. The metal pipes severely warped around their hardened bodies. It was such an inane attack they were almost reluctant to counter.

“Does that answer your question?” said Colossus.

“Ah would say so,” said Rogue rolling her eyes.

“YOU WILL NOT BREAK OUR SPIRITS!” yelled one of the Purifiers as he prepared to swing with is warped weapon once more.

“Spare meh the Braveheart speech, sugah,” she said coyly.

While Colossus casually swatted away the man that attacked him, Rogue was a bit more playful. Showing off her strength, she casually flicked the man that attacked her with her index finger. That delivered enough force to cause a mild concussion, which sent the man falling flat on his back.

“Should we be encouraged or curious, Professor?” asked Storm, who was reluctant to attack the remaining men.

“I’m not sure, but I suspect we’ll find our answers inside the church,” said Professor Xavier.

“Then that’s where we’ll go,” said Captain Freeman as he set his sights on the church, “Gambit, why don’t you, Rogue, Colossus, and Psylocke clean up out here? Call the local police and get an ambulance here if they don’t play nice.”

“That mean you gonna hog all the fun with Stryker?” said Gambit as he took out his bow staff.

“If it makes you feel any better, we’ll only rough him up a little!” said Phoenix.

With four Purifiers remaining, the team split up. Phoenix, Storm, and Professor Xavier followed Captain Freeman towards the main church entrance. Rogue, Colossus, and Psylocke maneuvered around so that the Purifiers would have to go through them to get to the others.

They rest of the zealous attackers had little with which to attack. Two of them had what looked like kitchen knives, one had a mid-sized hammer, and the other had what looked like the leg of a piano. Despite seeing two of their comrades fall, they never hesitated to strike their enemies.

“FOR THE PURITY OF HUMANITY!” yelled one of the attackers.

“Give it a rest already, luv,” said Psylocke dryly.

One of the men Purifiers with a knife tried to stab the young psychic. She easily avoided the attack with her ninja agility. She formed a psionic blade to disarm the man, breaking his hand in the process. Then she delivered a punishing kick to the head that broke his nose and put him on the ground.

“These blokes look more disturbed than usual,” commented Psylocke, “Don’t know if I should call the police or a therapist.”

“Usually, we’re the ones acting on desperation. This feels awkward,” said Rogue.

“Well Remy could get used to it,” grinned Gambit.

The Purifier with the piano leg tried to take a swing at Gambit. The Cajun mutant barely broke a sweat as he ducked to the side and used his bow staff to trip him up. As he stumbled forward, Rogue clotheslined him. That made two Purifiers with broken facial bones. Hopefully, that would keep them docile for the rest of this conflict.

The two remaining Purifiers didn’t let up. The man with the piano leg took a swipe at Colossus, despite seeing what happened with the metal pipe earlier. Colossus didn’t even move, letting the piano leg shatter across his metal skin. When the Purifier saw this, he only grew more enraged.

“The devil won’t protect you from our wrath!” he seethed.

“And your madness won’t protect you from this,” said Colossus flatly.

The Russian mutant grabbed the man by the neck and performed a special choke-hold to render him unconscious. It wasn’t as rough as his previous attack, but these men didn’t seem deserving of a full-blown counterstrike. Something else had already traumatized them. Even the last Purifier was determined to fight to the bitter end.

“FOR OUR FALLEN BROTHERS AND SISTERS!” he exclaimed as he came running at Colossus with his hammer.

“Don’t bother lookin’ up, Pete. Remy’s got this,” said Gambit.

While the man was preparing to take another swing at Colossus, the Cajun threw his bow staff like a javelin. It struck right around the man’s legs, causing him to fall and lose his grip on the hammer. He fell flat on his face, but was still determined attack.

Looking up at Colossus, he was prepared to stumble to his feet and fight with his bare hands. He never got the chance though. Teon caught up with him, landing right on his back and pinning him to the ground.

“FIGHT! FIGHT!” roared Teon as he slammed the man’s head into the ground.

“Whoa there, take it easy, Teon!” said Psylocke as she caught up with him, “We need to keep these blokes in one piece, remember?”

“Do we have to? These fellas have caused a hell of a lot of problems for us,” groaned Rogue as she and Colossus coaxed Teon off the man.

“I’ve already called a local hospital. They’ve got EMTs on their way,” said Psylocke as she made sure the man stayed unconscious, “If Professor Xavier doesn’t find anything in the church, we need someone with an undamaged brain to question.”

“What could be they possibly find?” wondered Colossus, “These men already seem defeated.”

“Ah don’t know, but Teon sure seems to sense something,” said Rogue, noticing the young mutant’s demeanor.

The primal mutant was still looking around the church, as if he was seeing something that the others couldn’t detect. Before the others could probe deeper, Teon was already on the move again.

“More fight!” he said as he ran off.

“Bloody Hell, not again!” groaned Psylocke.

“Ah think we just found Wolverine’s replacement,” joked Gambit.

While Teon followed his instincts, the rest of the X-men had reached the front entrance to Purity Church. Professor Xavier, Captain Freeman, Phoenix, and Storm remained vigilant for traps or security measures. So far, they had seen none.

They noticed that there were surveillance cameras, but they weren’t active or were ripped out. As they approached the door, they noticed it wasn’t even locked. It looked as though the seals had been sliced off. It was as if someone had already attacked this place. As their suspicion grew, so too did the ominous signs.

“This is getting creepy,” said Phoenix as she looked around, “It’s like they threw a college frat party that went horribly wrong.”

“And it looks like it got ugly as well,” said Captain Freeman as he looked at the door, “There was definitely a battle here. The electricity has been cut. The entrances are damaged. Someone hit this place hard. Most likely a surprise attack that Stryker tried to counter. I can still smell the cordite from the gunfire.”

“Is that what that smell is?” said Storm as she sniffed the air, “It smells more like rotting meat to me.”

“I’ve smelled worse,” said Captain Freeman as he ran his hands over what looked like bullet-holes in the walls.

“I recognize that smell,” said Professor Xavier grimly as he looked up at the structure, “I think I know why those men were so traumatized.”

“How bad is it, Professor?” asked Storm warily.

“There’s only one way to know for sure,” said Xavier as he prepared himself for what he was about to see.

Turning towards Captain Freeman, he nodded understandingly. The Green Beret stopped forth, carefully opening the door and using his adaptive form to stay durable in case there was a trap.

Nothing happened at first. Professor Xavier then led the way, guiding his X-men into the ominous building. As soon as they entered they were greeted with a ghastly sight. It was a sight that confirmed Professor Xavier’s fears. Storm, Phoenix, and Captain Freeman shuttered as they saw it as well. It was truly horrifying.

“My heavens…” gasped Storm.

“I don’t think I’ll be eating for the next two weeks,” groaned Phoenix as she covered her mouth.

“Looks like I was right about there being a battle here,” said Captain Freeman, who had to restrain himself despite his battle-hardened psyche, “I think we now know who won.”

It was a scene ripped out of the most horrific of war zones. Strewn out along the floor were long rows of mangled bodies. The X-men recognized them as the bodies of Reverend Stryker’s Purifiers. They weren’t covered or very clean for that mattered.

Some were so mutilated that it was hard to believe that it had ever been a person. Some were still intact, bearing wounds that ensured they never stood a chance. What stood out most wasn’t just that they were gruesome. The nature of these wounds was all too familiar.

“These wounds,” mused Professor Xavier, trying to hold back his disgust, “They look like…”

“Claw marks,” said Captain Freeman as he knelt down to examine one, “Sharp, quick, and in clusters of three. Am I the only one with déjà vu here?”

“No way! Wolverine did not do this,” said Phoenix strongly.

“He couldn’t have,” said Storm.

“He didn’t. I’m sure of it,” affirmed Professor Xavier as he looked closer.

“How can you be so sure?” asked Captain Freeman.

“Because I’m starting to sense what took place here,” said Professor Xavier as he gazed deeper into the church, “It’s not Wolverine. It’s something far worse!”

Storm, Phoenix, and Captain Freeman followed the Professor’s gaze. They took in the sheer scale of this carnage. Rows upon rows of bodies lined the floors. They all lead up to the central area of the church. Towards the man pews, there stood a sizable stack of bodies that reeked of a stench that words could not describe. Standing in front of this ghastly pile of flesh was Reverend William Stryker.

It looked like the Reverend had been tending to the bodies for quite some time. He was a far cry from the stern, pious demeanor that so defined him. He looked like a man traumatized by the fires of Hell itself. With a heavy heart, he piled up more bodies using a blood-soaked shovel. Along with their rotting flesh, he threw on his crucifix necklace and reverend collar. As far as he was concerned, his flock was no more.

“Rest in peace, my brothers. Go unto the Lord. Cherish a Heaven free of corruption,” he said flatly.

“Stryker!” shouted Captain Freeman as he walked out ahead of Professor Xavier, “Is this why you shot Father Hansen?”

Reverend Stryker looked up stoically and saw the X-men approaching. With a blood-soak face, his gaze narrowed on the creatures that had brought so much sin upon him.

“I see you got my message, X-men,” he told them, “Are you here to complete your sin against God? If so, make it quick. I fear the Hell your kind is about to bring is nothing compared to the Hell you’re going to.”

Up next: Unholy Man Part 2

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