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Volume 5 -- Issue 105 -- Bleeding Hearts

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Bleeding Hearts
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Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men face many daunting challenges. As the next stage in human evolution, they seek to use their powers to protect a world that hates and fears them. In a welcome triumph, they gained a new ally in the Academy of Tomorrow. This new school for mutants is run by Emma Frost and promises to give the X-men and the young mutants that attend it some much need support.

At the moment, the most pressing issue for the X-men and mutants as a whole is enforcing the Genosha treaty. When an attack on a prison complex in Colorado Springs freed the zealous Graydon Creed, it put a major strain on the tenuous partnership between the X-men and the Mutant Security Agency. There is still a great deal of mystery surrounding this incident. And given Creed’s history, the X-men must prepare for the worst.

While the affairs with the MSA remain a major priority, there are other issues that have fallen to the wayside. Some are of a personal nature that have little bearing on mutant affairs as a whole. However, a few have the potential to become more serious and threaten to reignite old conflicts at the worst possible time.

Xavier Institute – Xavier’s Office

Professor Charles Xavier never aspired to become a political figure in his struggle for human/mutant peace, but understood that it was a necessary and unavoidable part of the struggle. Part of making the world a better place for mutants involved dealing with the various institutions that maintained order and stability throughout the world. He gained a strong appreciation for these institutions when he teamed up with General Nathan Grimshaw and the Mutant Security Agency. While dealing with men like him was tedious, it did have a number of benefits.

These benefits manifested in a major way with Emma Frost’s new school for mutants, the Academy of Tomorrow. Unlike the X-men, they didn’t have to build a reputation to be taken seriously. A few good words from Professor Charles Xavier sped up the process. The media picked up the story about a new team of mutants and so did officials in Washington. X-Factor’s exploits in Boston made headlines and prompted a barrage of questions, many of which Professor Xavier helped answer.

In addition to dealing with the press, Professor Xavier was able to pull a few strings with the government. He and General Grimshaw had their differences, but he was not opposed to having another option for wayward mutants. Emma certainly did not hesitate to thank him many times through a video phone conference once the details were settled.

“So General Grimshaw came through just as he promised,” said Emma over the line, “He spared us all a long and tedious trial for Mr. Vaccarro. He even made sure he couldn’t get sued by any frivolous lawyers. I might actually take back some of the nasty things I said about the man.”

“The General knows how to get things done. That much you should give him,” said Xavier from behind his desk, “I’ve sent you the paperwork that my lawyer, Amelia Voght, put together. She spent five hours negotiating with a judge in Boston to work out the logistics of this deal.”

“Glad to see she’s still the least conniving lawyer on this planet, even if she didn’t get my newest student a full reprieve.”

“She didn’t try to. Santo caused a great deal of property damage and he must be held accountable for it. But because the law still considers mutation an act of God, they can’t charge him too harshly. Since no one was seriously hurt, his punishment will be a year of probation along with a few hundred hours of community service. He’ll likely have to help rebuild the streets he damaged. If he does a good job there’s an option to reduce that sentence.”

“I doubt he’ll be thrilled, but he’ll get over it. He’s an arrogant teenager like many of my students. He already gave himself the codename Rockslide. He even asked if that could be his new legal name.”

“I’ll talk to Amelia, but don’t get the boys hopes up,” said Xavier in a humored tone.

“Since when do I deal in false hope? I’m more intrigued by the legal precedent this sets. I suspect your friends in Washington will look to my Academy for dealing with others like him.”

“It is certainly intriguing. The idea of sending these unfortunate mutants to a school rather than throwing them in jail holds a great deal of appeal. I’ve seen what the papers are saying about you. They’re already calling your academy a new generation of X-men.”

“Remind me to send angry letters to their editors. We’re X-Factor. We still have to wear masks because some of my students can’t afford having their identities blared over a loudspeaker. You’ve been through that process before, Charles. You know how long a road we have ahead of us.”

“I’m confident you’ll be able to handle it,” said Xavier, “I still have a few legal documents from the General to send you. Other than that, I think it’s safe to say that your Academy has a bright future ahead of it.”

“It’s nice to start strong, I suppose. You know I’m never satisfied with a single triumph.”

“I’m sure you’ll have many others, Emma. I’ll be keeping in touch,” he said.

“As will I, Charles. Whether you like it or not.”

The Professor smiled at his former student. It was nice to have Emma Frost on their side again. Her Academy of Tomorrow had already proved to be a valuable ally and the X-men needed as many as they could get at this point.

The call ended and Professor Xavier let out an accomplished sigh. This was an exciting development amidst other issues concerning Graydon Creed, the MSA, and the Genosha treaty. These were all unresolved issues that the X-men had been unable to dedicate sufficient time and resources to confronting. There was also the matter of Sinister being active again. The capture of Vertigo offered an ominous indication that he was planning something. It was an issue among many that ensured the X-men would stay very busy.

‘There’s never time for rest, but there’s always time for accomplishment. Another ally in the Academy of Tomorrow holds so much promise. It may end up having to pick up the slack for my institute. The X-men have so much to contend with. It would be nice if we can take care of some of these issues so we can get back to carrying out our most important mission.’

The logistical aspects of his job were over for now. At last he could get back to some of the more enjoyable tasks, such as teaching. He was scheduled to give a lecture to the team in an hour. It was easy to forget sometimes that he was an educator by trade and he still had students that needed educating.

He started wheeling himself out of his office. Then his cell phone started buzzing on his desk. Xavier turned around, noticing it wasn’t in his pocket like he thought. Chalking it up to old age and an overworked mind, he wheeled back to his desk and answered it.

“Hello? This is Xavier,” he answered.

For a moment there was only silence on the other line. Then he heard what seemed like angry muttering from a familiar voice.

“Rogue? Rogue, is that you? What’s wrong?” said the Professor in a more urgent tone.

“Professor…it’s Kurt.”

Genosha – Citadel

Logan had adjusted nicely to his new role on Genosha since the hacking incident. It was probably the most focused he had been in months. He hadn’t stopped drinking, but he hadn’t gone on any self-deprecating bender. There was too much work for him to do. He was responsible for being Professor Xavier’s eyes and ears on this island and there was always something to report.

Activity on Genosha was as hectic as ever. The economic boom fueled an increasing demand for Genosha’s precious goods. Logan took it upon himself to make sure nobody on either side screwed up when it came to satisfying these demands.

After the incident at the military base, he was one of the few on the island who could go back and forth between Genosha’s leadership and the military presence on the island. He convinced the military officers to overhaul their network to ensure they don’t get hacked again. He also convinced Wanda to tighten up their operations with Warlock. This technology was important and he still didn’t sense that either side was being as careful as they thought they were.

Logan’s presence didn’t win him many friends on the island and that was just how Logan wanted it. Since everybody knew he was sniffing around, it made them think twice about doing something that would jeopardize the peace. In nearly every visit he made to the island, he busted a number of punks, mutant and non-mutant, who tried to steal or pirate this technology. Logan made sure they preferred turning themselves in rather than facing his claws. It made life for the military easier and it made Wanda’s job easier, but he still didn’t expect them to be grateful.

“What’s got Wanda’s panties up in a bunch this time, Summers? What did I do that was so wrong that she had to pull me from patrol?” said Logan in a gruff tone as he made his way through the Citadel.

“I don’t know. Could be any number of things,” shrugged Alex Summers, who was tasked with escorting him to the throne room, “She wasn’t too thrilled about that mutant with the pink skin you busted yesterday.”

“The one trying to stuff his pockets with microchips? Thought that punk got off pretty easy,” scoffed Logan.

“He ended up with a broken jaw, two cracked ribs, and a concussion. How is that easy?”

“I’ve done worse and little Miss Magneto here knows it. You gonna tell me you wouldn’t have done the same?”

Alex shook his head and grinned. While Logan rubbed everybody on this island the wrong way, somehow Alex got along with him. It helped they each had a healthy disrespect for his brother, Scott. It also helped that they shared an equal fondness for the direct approach in resolving conflicts.

“Either way, I’m not saying shit this time. Whichever one of her buttons you’ve pushed, you’ll have to figure it out yourself,” said Alex.

“And here I was thinking you ain’t the same asshole as your brother,” said Logan dryly.

“I smuggled in a case of imported beer from Ireland earlier today. Consider that as my pre-determined apology,” retorted the younger Summers brother.

“Depending on how pissed off your boss is, you better have a second case on standby.”

Alex rolled his eyes and led the former living weapon to the main doors to the throne room. They didn’t hear any shouting or hexing on the other side, which was a good sign by any standard. Logan didn’t bother bracing himself and barged right in ahead of Alex.

“Okay Maximoff, how did I piss you off this time?” said Logan, “Make it quick. This place still stinks of your old man.”

His entrance drew the attention of Wanda, Pietro, Blob, and another mutant with bronze skin that Logan didn’t recognize. They were all anxiously huddled around a table in the corner and the former living weapon’s entrance did little to help.

“Does this guy even understand the concept of a simple hello?” said Blob.

“This isn’t Texas, Freddy. Not everyone is keen on manners,” grumbled Pietro.

“If you’re not used to it by now, then you’re not trying hard enough,” said Wanda as she turned around to confront the feral mutant, “And unfortunately, we need him for this.”

“Says you,” scoffed the speedster.

Wanda ignored Pietro and Blob’s comments. Neither seemed too happy about this meeting. However, Wanda didn’t appear enraged like she usually was when she called for a private meeting. Logan still assumed it involved something that could get really bad really fast.

“Thank you for coming on such short notice. You know I wouldn’t invite you unless I was completely out of options,” said Wanda.

“Nice to see you too, your highness,” said Logan dryly, “So what’s this about? If you ain’t yelling at me yet, I’m guessing you’ve got a hell of a problem.”

“Indeed we do, although I’m not sure how bad it is at this point,” she said, “It involved one of our acolytes, Scanner. She was assaulted early this morning.”

“Assaulted how? We talking about a spat over the latest shipment of Swiss chocolate or something worse?” said Logan.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you. Blob found her lying unconscious outside a restaurant. She didn’t have any marks on her, but she was clearly hit by something.”

“I ain’t saying she wasn’t, but people get hit every day. What makes this Scanner girl so special? She got something that makes her an easy target?”

“For one, she’s a vital part of our team. Her powers allow her to scan for and detect mutants through their unique psionic signature. We need her to keep track of all the mutants on our island and others beyond our borders. That’s why we’ve had our resident healer, Elixir, treat her. But as you can see, the results have been mixed so far.”

Wanda led the feral mutant to the table where Elixir, Blob, and Pietro were watching over the young mutant. While Elixir was trying to heal her, Scanner lay completely still and looked very pale. Whatever Elixir was doing, it didn’t seem to be working.

This mutant, Scanner, certainly looked like she had been on the wrong end of a fight. She appeared weak and the clothes she was wearing were a bit tattered. It reminded him somewhat of how he looked when he had been on the receiving end of Cyclops’s optic blasts. However, that wasn’t the most telling clue.

“Something doesn’t smell right,” he said as he whiffed the air around her.

“You gonna tell me what I ate for lunch again or something?” scoffed Blob.

“I ain’t got that kind of time, lard-ass,” said Logan as he turned to Elixir, “Bronze boy, you say you’ve been healing her?”

“Uh…yeah, as best I can,” he said, sounding nervous in the face of an X-man.

“I take it you got some powers that help you heal most folks from bumps, bruises, and that sort of thing. So if someone comes to you with a shaving cut, you can make go away quicker than any overpriced aftershave, right?”

“I like to think my powers are better than that, but yeah. That’s what I do,” he said.

“So pretend for a sec you’re a doctor and not some kid who lost a fight with a tanning bed. In your professional opinion, is her body fully healed?”

Elixir hesitated briefly. This was Wolverine he was talking to. His exploits were as legendary as his temper. Answering incorrectly was foolish at best, but not as foolish as lying. So with this in mind, he answered as honestly as possible.

“In terms of pure physiology…yeah, her body is the picture of health,” he answered.

“That’s all I need to know from you. And assuming you ain’t full of shit, that means it ain’t just her body that got attacked,” said Logan as he turned back towards Scanner.

“What do you mean? Are you saying someone attacked her mind?” asked Wanda intently.

“We have a psychic who can deal with that sort of crap. Quentin Quere is a douche-bag, but he would notice and make a big deal of it,” said Blob.

“It ain’t her mind that got hit,” said the feral mutant, “More like her spirit.”

“Spirit?” scoffed Pietro, “Are you a Jedi now or something? What could possibly attack her spirit?”

“Not what…who,” he snarled.

Ignoring the speedster’s skepticism, Logan leaned in to capture more scents. Whatever still lingered was limited at best. However, some scents lingered more than others. One of them was this cold, nauseating musk that hung over her. It smelled like a mix of fire, brimstone, and death. It was very distinct and evoked a deep anger in him, as if his nose remembered it even though his brain did not.

He kept following the scents intently. As he did, Scanner finally emerged from her unconscious state. She was still clearly very weak. However, some strength had returned to her and she let out a faint gasp.

“The Black…Queen.”

Logan didn’t need to sniff anymore. Those words told him everything he needed to know. Now he knew who was behind this and it could only mean trouble.

“Black Queen? What the hell does that mean?” said Pietro.

“That like an evil version of Dairy Queen?” said Blob.

“Do you have to relate everything to food?” said the speedster dryly.

Ignoring her brother’s remarks, Wanda took this more seriously.

“Do you know what that means, Logan?” she asked him, “If there’s someone running around my island attacking spirits, I need to know about it.”

“It’s worse than that. This shit just got a lot bigger than your damned island,” snarled the feral mutant.

“What do you mean? Who is the Black Queen?”

Logan didn’t have time to explain who the Black Queen was and why she was bad news. Whenever she made a move, nothing good came of it. There was no telling what kind of madness she was up to, but it likely involved something that needed stabbing.

“I need to call the X-men!” said Logan as he stormed out of the throne room.

“You’re not seriously running off without giving us any answers, are you?” said an annoyed Wanda Maximoff.

“Watch me!”

Xavier Institute – Outside Classroom

‘Remy can’t take this shit! I can steal anything from anybody, but Remy can’t steal himself a decent night sleep.’

The Cajun mutant let out another yawn. It was his fifth of the past hour. To say he wasn’t fully alert would have been an insult to insomniacs everywhere. He hadn’t slept for more than a few hours in the past week. He still went to class, trained in the Danger Room, and participated in all the usual X-men related activities. But when the time came to rest he could not settle his mind.

His breakup with Betsy was behind him. They were finally getting used to being friends and not lovers. But she seemed to be sleeping fine while he kept wrestling with the finer details of his situation.

He hated philosophical dead ends. The issues involving him, Betsy, and Rogue kept swirling around in his mind with no possible resolution. He kept trying to make sense of it, but he kept failing at every turn. With sleep already in short supply with the X-men, he wasn’t doing himself any favors.

‘Another day, another lecture. Hope this one is worth staying awake for.’

Remy was running late when he approached the door to the classroom. He was about to enter when Professor Xavier approached him.

“Remy, may I have a word with you?” he asked.

The Cajun sighed and turned around, trying hard not to look too sleep deprived.

“Sure thing, Professor,” Remy said, “Hope you didn’t sense that last little musing of Remy’s.”

“I’ll say I didn’t and forget if I did,” said Xavier, “Something’s come up and it may require you to miss this lecture. It’s not terribly serious, but it involves Rogue.”

“Rogue? Is she okay?” he said, now more alert.

“Not as much as she needs to be,” said the Professor warily, “She called me a while ago and was quite upset. Apparently, things have taken a turn for the worse with Amanda and Kurt by default.”

“Remy thought that was already pretty bad. I don’t see how it could get worse.”

“Well it has. Dealing with Amanda’s situation has had a serious effect on Kurt. He’s been skipping his online classes lately and he hasn’t been checking in like he usually does. Based on what Rogue told me, he’s in a very distressed state and that distress has carried over to her.”

This was disturbing news. Rogue was quite possibly the strongest person Remy had ever known. It took an awful lot to hurt her, both literally and figuratively. If it was as bad as it sounded, then it had to go beyond just dealing with Kurt and Amanda.

“Why you telling me this, Professor?” asked the Cajun.

“Because I want you to pay her a visit,” he said, “Rogue needs someone by her side right now. I think that someone should be you.”

“You sure about that? You know our complicated history as well as anyone”

“I’m well aware of that history. I also know you care enough about her to work around it. She’s in a vulnerable state, Remy. I want to help her as well and certainly plan to do so. Right now, I think it would be best if you offered her comfort in the meantime.”

It was hardly an unreasonable task. Remy had comforted Rogue many times before. Even when so many issues had come between them, it didn’t stop them from being close friends. Right now it sounded like she needed a friend and that was reason enough to set aside his current musing.

“Okay Professor,” he said, “If that’s the best treatment for Rogue, consider me the antidote. Guess that means I’ll be missing this here lecture.”

“I’ll have Jean forward you the notes,” said Xavier with a look of relief, “Thank you, Remy. I appreciate you doing this.”

“Ain’t no need for thanks, Professor. When it comes to Rogue, it don’t take much convincing for this here Cajun.”

“I’m sure she’ll appreciate that. And while you’re there, please keep your communicator on at all times in case of an emergency.”

“Why? You think Rogue being upset will require backup?” Remy joked.

“It’s not Rogue that concerns me. From what she told me about Amanda, we may be poised for another one of her episodes.”

Sefton Home

Rogue was usually a patient person when it came to family. She waited four years for Mystique when she ran off on her. One of the few constants that kept her going was the support of her adopted brother, Kurt. Now he was giving her almost as much frustration as Mystique. Even if siblings were supposed to frustrate one another, her patience only went so far.

“Kurt…don’t give meh more reasons to yell at you. Ah’m holding back with every ounce of strength not to scream at the top of mah lungs,” said an exasperated Rogue upon finishing her second cigarette of the day.

“I’m sorry, mien sister. I don’t mean to upset you,” said a very morose Kurt Wagner as he stared blankly at a cup of coffee.

“Ah’m sure you don’t, but Ah ain’t sure you’re putting in the effort,” she said, pushing the coffee towards him, “You ain’t slept in three days. You’ve skipped every online class for the past week. Ah don’t know if that’s because Amanda banished you to the couch or if something else entirely is bugging the hell out of you. Either way, keeping it from your sister is really startin’ to bug the hell out of me.”

“It isn’t like zhat, Rogue. I explained zhat already,” said an increasingly anxious Kurt.

“Yeah, because Amanda having those nightmares again seems to be your excuse for everything,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“It’s not an excuse.”

“Is it, Kurt? You keep beating yourself up for things you ain’t got no control over. Amanda’s getting worse. Ah understand that,” said Rogue in a somewhat calmer tone.

“I don’t think you do. I don’t think anybody understands,” he said grimly.

“Even if they don’t, that ain’t a good reason to shoulder all the blame. Ah know you made Amanda a promise and all. She’s got this whole dark destiny crap hangin’ over her, but even she doesn’t want you to keep kickin’ yourself like this. Heck, that’s the reason why she kept this stuff from you in the first place.”

“Are you going to agree with Kitty now and say she was right in doing so?”

“Ah ain’t gonna be that brutally honest, but Ah am gonna speak mah mind. You’re mah brother, Kurt. Ah love you to death and Ah’m doing everything Ah can to support you, but you’re makin’ this pretty damn hard on meh. If it were the other way around, you wouldn’t be half as frustrated as meh. Ah know that because you got more faith than meh. Ah wanna have that faith too, but Ah…Ah can’t.”

Kurt didn’t take his eyes off the steaming cup of coffee he had yet to touch. He couldn’t bear to look in the desperate eyes of his adopted sister. It would only make him feel worse.

Rogue shook her head and groaned. Nothing she said was going to make a difference. It hadn’t been easy since they moved in with the Seftons. There were plenty of streaks where he would be gloomy and depressed because of his inability to help his lover. None were quite as bad as this.

It all started with these nightmares that Amanda was having. These nightmares turned to more elaborate mystical manifestations, which in turn led to more strange tattoos on her body. Her mother and Shaman believed they were a sign of something. Rogue could care less what that sign entailed. All she cared about was how much this was hurting her brother. His usually undying faith seemed to be faltering. The two siblings remained in a heavy silence until Illyana Rasputin entered.

“Hey Kurt, Miss Sefton told me to…” began the young Russian only to stop in mid-sentence, “Um…am I interrupting something?”

“No Illyana, it’s okay,” said Kurt, “Vhat is it?”

“It’s Amanda. She’s finally resting so she’s going to cast that spell with Shaman in a few minutes. She thought you might want to be there for it.”

This news seemed to rouse Kurt more than any cup of coffee. He abruptly pulled away from his sister’s concerned presence and rose up, trying hard not to look like someone who was horribly sleep deprived.

“Danke for telling me, Illyana,” he said, “I better catch up vith zhem before zhey start.”

“Right…because one spell has made all the difference before,” muttered Rogue.

Kurt turned to Rogue with an only a mildly reassuring gesture. He wasn’t making this easier for either of them, but he had a promise to keep. No amount of personal shortcomings were going to keep him from doing so.

“I’m sorry, Rogue. I’ll let you yell at me more later. I may need it,” he said.

“That ain’t all you’ll need,” she replied, “Now go before Ah pin you to the floor.”

Kurt paused briefly. This was not going to be resolved anytime soon. He had to take this one crisis at a time and Amanda came first.

Rogue didn’t even watch as he ran off. She just kept staring at the cup of coffee she made for Kurt, which was probably going to go to waste. Now she was even more frustrated than before.

“I’m sorry you and your brother are fighting so much,” said Illyana with a reassuring gesture.

“We ain’t fighting, Illyana. We’re just…” but Rogue’s words trailed off.

“You’re fighting. Believe me, I know the signs,” said the Russian girl with a humored grin, “I have a brother too. I know how bad it feels.”

“Really? Has Peter ever been this messed up over a girl who happens to be trapped by some crazy ancient curse?” said Rogue dryly.

“He’s been involved with his share of bad people. Some have required me to yell at him on more than one occasion,” she said.

“Then you of all people should know where Ah’m coming from. Heck, you’ve been learnin’ this magic stuff for a while now. You know how crazy it is. Can you honestly tell meh that Kurt knows? Or is he just playing the ignorance-is-bliss card?”

“I’m still a beginner. I cannot begin to tell you what he does and does not know. I can only tell you that what’s going on with Amanda is quite serious.”

“Ah know. That’s what everybody says. It makes meh feel like such an ass for being so mad at Kurt.”

“I wouldn’t say it makes you an ass, as you say. It just makes you a concerned sister. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Illyana may have been younger, but she did have some experience with difficult family members. It was debatable if Piotr’s friends in the Russian Mob were worse than the evil consuming Amanda. What wasn’t debatable was who had it worse at the moment. For all her strength and resilience, Rogue still felt powerless. It seemed like only a matter of time before something else went horribly wrong.

Amanda’s Room

“It should be me lying on that bed,” mused Margali Sefton.

“Saying that the sixth time won’t make any greater difference than the fifth, Margali,” said Shaman in a stern tone, “Now are you ready or not?”

Margali held back her maternal urge to weep for her suffering daughter. She had shed so many tears for Amanda. Generations of Seftons had shed these same tears. She cursed herself for not being as strong as her grandmother. Amanda didn’t deserve this. Nobody deserved this.

The lingering effects of Selene’s ritual continued to plague her daughter. The tattoo-like symbols on her body remained a constant reminder that she had crossed a point no Sefton had crossed before. They knew the outcome, but not all the steps that led to it. She worked desperately with Shaman in hopes of finding a way to reverse this curse. They experienced plenty of mishaps along the way. The latest obstacle came in the form of nightmares and this ritual was supposed to confront them.

“Based on my research with Illyana, I’ve surmised that Amanda’s nightmares are not a manifestation of her burden. It’s far more likely that we’re dealing with an outside force.”

“You mean someone is trying to attack Amanda? How is that possible? I’ve put up every mystic shield I know around this house.”

“I never said it was an attack. It’s far more likely that someone is tapping a unique form of mystical energy and Amanda is picking up on it,” Shaman elaborated, “Think of it as a radio being bombarded by a variety of scrambled signals. It stands to reason that her nightmares are the static of this interference.”

“I’d say it’s more than static. She’s been giving off some disturbing energy bursts in her sleep the past few nights. I don’t know how much more her bedroom can take.”

“Which is why we need to complete this ritual now and not later,” said Shaman, “We cannot risk exacerbating Amanda’s condition. Our best bet is to trace the source and confront it.”

“No need to add more incentive, Shaman. You know I’m always ready to take the necessary steps for my daughter.”

Margali caressed her daughter’s tired face one last time. Amanda looked so dazed, stuck in a state between sleep and consciousness. It was the calmest state they could put her in. It was not the most comfortable of positions, which gave them all the more reason to succeed.

The ritual was finally ready. Shaman had several books set up on a few tables nearby to provide the necessary instructions. They had a fairly elaborate setup. They converted the guest room where Shaman had been sleeping into a ritual room. A small single bed was now in the center with an array of candles and mystical artifacts. Some were a few precious stones and incense that Margali had on hand. There were also some Native American artifacts that Shaman had provided. These materials were supposed to work in conjunction to complete this spell. As two experienced mystics prepared to begin, Kurt came rushing through the door.

“I’m here! Has it started yet?” he said breathlessly.

“No, but we were just about to,” said Margali, “Amanda isn’t fully awake though. You may not be able to wish her luck.”

“It’s okay. She knows I’m here,” said Kurt confidently.

As soon as his voice filled the room, Amanda shifted slightly. Her head turned a bit and she could see Kurt standing behind her mother. Even though she was clearly dazed, she managed a very faint smile.

“It would seem she does,” said Shaman, “But for this ritual, she needs to stay in a trance.”

“I understand,” said Kurt, offering a reassuring nod to his lover, “Please just make her better again.”

“We will. We better or none of us will be getting any sleep from now on,” said Margali.

Kurt reluctantly stepped back to give Shaman and Margali room to work. He had seen plenty of mystical rituals growing up with his father in the Azazel. He knew it was not wise to get too close. He kept his eyes on Amanda and silently prayed for her.

‘Be safe, liebe. Please…I need you to stop suffering.’

Margali and Shaman got into position. Margali stood over her daughter while Shaman stayed back. The first few moments were spent getting into a focused state of mind, which was vital for any mystical incantation. When they were ready, Margali placed her hands over her daughter’s body and closed her eyes. Within seconds, an aura of yellow energy formed around her palms. This energy soon consumed Amanda and bathed her in a gentle light.

Shaman took over from there. He held up one of the relics he brought from his home, which was a special staff with some bird feathers and precious stones on the tip. With it, he read over the specified texts.

“Begin the incantation,” ordered Shaman.”

“Make it quick!” said Margali sternly, “Our window here is closing fast.”

The Native American mutant began chanting in an ancient tongue, invoking forces from the various realms of beyond. After the first few words, the air grew thicker and hotter. A brilliant swirl of light extended from Margali’s hands and into her daughter. Amanda remained completely still, not showing any signs of discomfort.

Before long, the ritual was in full swing. Shaman read over lines after line of the incantation, chanting with a booming voice in a language only those versed in the mystic arts understood. The candles throughout the room flickered and a few of the relics mounted on the wall started to pulsate. It seemed to be going smoothly. Kurt kept watching and praying, hoping that whatever forces involved were augmented by his faith.

“I…I feel something,” said Margali as the lights continued to swirl.

“Vhat is it? Is Amanda okay?” asked Kurt anxiously.

“She’s fine. But I think you were right, Shaman. There is some strange mystical interference she’s picking up on. The source seems to be coming from a fixed point in the mystical aether. I should be able to filter it out and…”

Suddenly, the ambience of the ritual was shattered. A powerful burst of light erupted from Amanda’s body. It was so powerful it shattered Margali’s focus and forced Kurt to cover his eyes. Shaman had to stop his chanting as well. His books were literally blown off the table by the burst and he had to back away from the blinding light.

“No!” he exclaimed, “Not this…not now!” he exclaimed.

“Vhat is it? Vhat’s happening to Amanda?!” yelled Kurt.

“Don’t tell me we messed up the spell!” cried Margali.

“We didn’t,” said Shaman grimly, “Someone else messed it up for us.”

Kurt and Margali could only watch with horror as the scene before them unfolded. The yellow light surrounding Amanda had now turned red. An intense mystical aura surrounded her, erupting in chaotic bolts that destroyed the candles and burned holes in the wall. Within this chaos Amanda’s prone body rose up, her eyes now wide open and glowing in a brilliant red hue.

“Mien Gott…Amanda,” gasped Kurt.

“Nova Roma…Mount Anton…the fire,” she cried, “We’re all…going to…burn!”

Xavier Institute – War Room

The lecture from Professor Xavier was short lived. It had to end early and not for a pop quiz either. Logan made an emergency call from Genosha on a secure line that found its way to the Professor. Since he began his new role on the island, he gave the X-men regular reports. It was only when he found something really disturbing that he made a call like this.

Everybody who could be there was present. Professor Xavier stood around the holographic projector with Scott, Jean, Bobby, Ororo, Kitty, Betsy, and Piotr. They were waiting for the encrypted transmission to begin, never certain of what to expect from Genosha.

“Shouldn’t we wait for, Hank? You said he was still here, Professor,” said Ororo.

“That’s what I thought. Unfortunately, that was half an hour ago. It appears he’s gone off on a mission of his own,” said Professor Xavier.

“He’s been locked in his lab for days now. What the hell has he been working on?” asked Scott.

“Good luck getting that information out of him,” said Jean, “I’ve been the one reminding him of all the lessons he’s been missing. He keeps telling me he’s busy with an experiment and he’ll make it up to us.”

“By busy I’m assuming he forgot to add with his girlfriend to the end,” said Kitty.

“If his thoughts were any hint, I’d say that’s a fair assumption.”

“You make it sound like something we should worry about, Jean,” said Piotr.

“A guy is spending extra time with his girlfriend. I’d say that’s always reason to worry,” said Betsy cynically.

“Could we please not talk about girlfriends right now?” groaned Bobby, who didn’t need reminders of his own romantic troubles, “I’d rather focus on our next round with impending doom.”

There was plenty of speculation to go around. Hank’s extracurricular activities had been a source of conflict before, especially when it came to his personal life. However, that issue would have to wait. The holographic computer alerted them that the transmission was coming in. Professor Xavier entered a few commands to bring up a messy holographic image.

“Hello? The fuck is with this thing? Is it working? Who does tech support in this dump?”

“Easy with the anti-technology rant, Logan. We can hear you,” said Scott, who was helping the Professor clear up the image.

“What? Damn this piece shit! I can barely see anything.”

“That’s because the line is secure, Logan. You requested as such, remember?” reminded the Professor, “You said this was important enough to keep away from prying ears. Don’t wait for the image to clear up. Just tell us what you found.”

The holographic image remained fuzzy. Logan did his best to clear it up on his end. After a few adjustments the team could make out his holographic form on the computer. He looked more frustrated than usual and the secure line wasn’t helping.

“To hell with this. I’ll just come out and say it. I picked up a scent on Genosha this morning. It wasn’t a pleasant one either. Turns out our favorite bondage queen, Selene, paid a visit to the island recently.”

“Selene?!” exclaimed Jean, the Phoenix inside her flaring at that name, “Are you sure?”

“Trust me, Jeannie. You don’t forget a scent like hers.”

“Do I even want to know who we’re talking about here?” said Betsy, who was lucky enough to have not dealt with this woman.

“Think psycho bitch mixed with evil Voldemort style sorcery. That’s Selene,” Kitty summarized.

“I do not read Lord of the Rings, but I will assume that is bad,” said Piotr.

It was such a disturbing revelation that nobody bothered to correct Piotr on his knowledge of the fantasy genre. The last time the X-men clashed with Selene, she got the better of them. At a time when they were dealing with many non-mystical matters, Selene was the last problem they needed.

“What exactly did you find? Do you know if she’s still on the island?” asked Professor Xavier.

“No, but I doubt it. That bitch would never leave a scent and not bolt the second she got what she wanted.”

“How do you know she got what she was looking for?” inquired Bobby.

“I don’t. Call it a gut feeling with a touch of common sense. She didn’t make a spectacle. She just attacked one of Wanda’s cronies. Some girl named Scanner.”

“What kind of attack? Selene has been known to mix it up,” said Scott.

“She practically drained the life out of her, but I ain’t sure that’s all she drained. This girl had some mutant power that allowed her to track other mutants. I don’t know what the hell the physics are behind that shit. I ain’t Hank. Where the hell is he anyways?”

“He’s MIA for the moment. Let’s stay focused here,” said Jean intently, “Did you find anything else?”

“Beyond some pissed off bitching from Wanda, not much. Now tell me we’re not gonna sit on this. We gotta nip Selene in that thong-loving ass of hers before she makes her next move!”

Everybody turned to Professor Xavier. He was as disturbed by this news as Jean. Selene was not a threat to take lightly. She had to have known that this attack was going to get her noticed. That indicated that she was uncomfortably close to succeeded in her next endeavor.

“The timing of this development can’t be mere happenstance,” he mused, “Earlier today I received a call from Rogue. She said things with the Seftons have taken a turn for the worse.”

“If memory serves me right, Selene was quite obsessed with Amanda and the power she possesses,” said Ororo.

“Could that be it? Is she preparing to attack her again?” wondered Kitty.

“It makes sense,” surmised Scott, “Perhaps this recent activity is a sign of some sort. I think it’s also worth remembering that Amanda has kept secrets from Kurt before. This could be another one.”

“Illyana is with them too. She could be in danger as well!” lamented Piotr, “We must do something.”

“We will, Peter,” said the Professor, “But we must be careful. Something about this doesn’t feel right.”

“It’s Selene. When did it ever feel right?” commented Bobby.

“My primary concern is that we could be walking into a situation we don’t fully understand. Against someone like Selene, that’s always dangerous.”

No one doubted for a second that this woman was capable of unspeakable destruction. Selene was a wild card. First she was the Black Queen of the Inner Circle. Then she was the Sefton’s greatest enemy. Somewhere along the way, she made friends with Madelyn Pryor and Sinister by default. By any measure, she got around in all the wrong ways.

“Since I’ve never faced this psycho bitch, perhaps I should be the one to give an objective assessment,” said Betsy.

“Don’t know how much good that will do, but if you have any ideas please share them,” said Kitty.

“Even if we don’t know what she’s up to, it’s a pretty safe bet that when she makes her move it’ll be painfully obvious.”

“That seems like a pretty fair assessment,” said Ororo.

“Yeah, Selene never was one for subtlety,” added Scott.

“So like any master criminal, she’ll keep her eyes on her primary goal. And if her goal is Amanda Sefton, then chances are she’ll be the one most affected. One of the first lessons I learned from Interpol was that if you want to catch sadistic criminals, you have to be where they are when they step out of from the shadows.”

“So what are you saying? We should just pay a visit to the Seftons and wait for Selene to pounce?” said Bobby.

“I think we all could have come up with that strategy, Betsy,” said Kitty dryly.

“I’m not saying some of us should pay Amanda a visit. I’m saying we should all pay her a visit,” Betsy clarified, “Let’s just assume something bad will happen and be there to take care of it in full force. That way we aren’t left waiting for backup to arrive.”

It seemed like an overreaction. Then again, it really wasn’t possible to overreact when it came to the Black Queen. The last time they faced her, they weren’t in full force and Selene got the better of them. They couldn’t let that happen again.

“I’ve never had anything against overkill so I’m all for this plan,” said Scott, “I say we go all out now and not wait.”

“I second that. I want to be ready to go full Phoenix Force on her when she shows up!” said Jean strongly.

“While I have some reservations about diverting all our attention to a single threat, I feel this may be necessary,” said Professor Xavier, “I’ll send a message to Hank. One of us needs to be on standby should something come up with the MSA. I already sent Remy over to the Seftons as well so we can find out beforehand if anything is amiss.”

“Great, so I guess that means class is canceled for the rest of the day,” said Kitty.

“As opposed to clashing with Selene? I still prefer class,” groaned Bobby.

The plan seemed settled. They were going to confront Selene and throw everything they had at her. Over the holographic projector, Logan picked up on this plan as well.

“You guys are still assuming you ain’t already too late. And if you expect me to stay on this dump while Selene is stirring up trouble, you’re crazier than she is.”

“I don’t intend to keep you on Genosha, Logan,” said the Professor, “Go ahead and get on the first transport you can find. You can catch up with us at the Seftons. Hopefully you’re wrong about us being too late.”

“I sure as hell wanna be. But if you do meet up with Queen Psycho Bitch, try and save some for me.”

“No promises, Logan. We’ll call you when we’re in position,” said Scott.

Professor Xavier closed the secure line and the X-men rushed out of the War Room to suit up. All the real-world issues concerning mutant affairs would have to take a backseat for now. If Selene was allowed to succeed in any capacity, then the political intricacies of human/mutant affairs would be the least of their worries.

Outside Sefton Home

‘Remy’s gotta find a way to make this easier on himself.’

So many conflicting thoughts bombarded Remy Lebeau as he arrived at the Sefton home. He took the long route in order to give himself some extra time to think. He scripted in his head everything he was going to say to Rogue. They hadn’t talked seriously since the Vertigo incident. After what happened with Betsy, they weren’t in a position to say much. That had to change if Rogue was as upset as the Professor suspected.

Upon pulling into the Sefton’s driveway on his motorcycle, he paused for a few minutes to prepare himself. He had to set aside the charm and be serious with this woman. He took off his helmet and prepared to approach the front door. That’s when the special X-men communicator on his belt went off.

“Someone better be invading the mansion,” he groaned as he picked it up.

Remy got off his bike and adjusted his trench coat as he answered the call.

“Oui, this is Gambit. You best have a dang good reason why you be calling,” said the Cajun.

“Remy! This is Cyclops. Are you at the Sefton’s house?”

“Yeah, Remy just got here. Why?”

“Does anything seem wrong? Is there any sign of an attack?”

“An attack? Naw, it looks as peaceful as a sleeping croc. Why? Is something…”

Remy was then cut off by the sound of a horrifying screeching noise. It came from the backyard. Remy almost dropped the communicator as he walked up closer to the house to see what was going on. He didn’t even get halfway when he saw a burst of light erupt from inside the house that was so strong it blew out all the windows.

“Remy? What the hell was that?!”

“Uh…Remy’s gotta go. Later!”

The Cajun put away the communicator and took out his bow staff. It didn’t look like he would have to recite that speech he rehearsed for Rogue after all. He had much bigger concerns now.

Running full speed, Remy scaled the fence leading into the back yard. When he landed, he saw that a massive hole had been blown in the wall of the house and lying within the wreckage were Kurt, Margali, and Shaman. The three of them looked like they had gone one too many rounds in a boxing ring. They were dazed and bruised, but still conscious. Remy traced their battered state and the wreckage back to the house where the source of pulsing light was revealed.

“Aw hell,” groaned the Cajun, “This is gonna wake the neighbors.”

“Too…much. It’s too…much,” cried a desperate Amanda Sefton.

A bolt of yellow energy shot out which Remy narrowly avoided by ducking to the side. The source of the attack Cyclops spoke of soon emerged from the chaos. It was Amanda and she was clearly not in a stable state of mind. She was hovering in midair, floating out from the hole in the wall and giving off all these powerful energy bursts. She looked like she was sleepwalking. She was also packing some serious mystical power that Remy was not equipped to deal with.

“Gambit?” groaned Kurt as he pulled himself up.

“Hey there, Kurt. Nice to see you too,” said Remy anxiously as he narrowly avoided another mystical burst, “Does Remy wanna know what the heck is goin’ on here?”

“Some…some kind of mystical interference is destabilizing her power!” cried Margali Sefton.

“Thanks for clearing that up,” groaned the Cajun, “There be a spell to stop her?”

“That…we haven’t ascertained,” said a dazed Shaman, who was just recovering as well.

“Figures,” he said with growing frustration.

Amanda drifted out into the backyard, unleashing more mystic bolts in the process. Each bolt incurred more destruction, breaking a few windows and shattering parts of the fence. As she drew closer to Kurt, Shaman, and Margali they instinctively pulled away. Kurt reached for Margali and teleported her to a safe distance while Remy rushed in and pulled Shaman away. But Amanda kept coming, showing no signs of letting up.

“Amanda! You have to fight zhis. Please…Vake up!” Kurt yelled out.

“Too much! Still too much!”

“The hell does she mean by that?” grunted Remy as he and Shaman narrowly avoided being hit by another bolt.

“I wish I could tell you. All I know is some mystic interference is hurting my daughter!” lamented Margali.

“Well can you at least slow her down? You folk are supposed to be good at this magic mojo!”

Remy dragged Shaman back towards Kurt and Margali. They braced themselves for more stray bolts as Amanda drew near. She now hovered right in the middle of the back yard now. The yellow light surrounding her body pulsated more erratically, causing more damage to the house. She seemed utterly powerless to stop herself. Then an urgent voice from back inside the house rang out.

“Enough with the temper tantrum, Amanda. Time for a nap!” said Rogue as she removed her gloves.

“Rogue wait!” exclaimed Margali.

Her warning was completely ignored as Rogue took through the air and flew through Amanda’s glowing aura. Her invulnerable form allowed her to endure the punishment and get within inches of the hovering girl. This gave Rogue chance to get close enough to touch her, which would drain her and end this madness.

“Illyana, get everybody outta here!” she called out, “I’ll put Amanda under for a bit!”

“Better hurry up, Rogue. It looks like she needs it more than we do!” yelled Illyana, who emerged from the house.

The young Russian girl braved more mystical bursts and rushed towards Shaman, Kurt, Margali, and Remy. Rogue’s attack seemed to direct the onslaught towards her, giving her the room she needed. However, before Illyana could reach the others, Amanda’s mysterious outburst took another grim turn.

“Too…much!” Amanda said again with more pain in her tone.

Rogue was within inches of touching her bare face. When she sensed this, the mysterious energy surrounding her body turned from yellow to dark red. It looked like she was surrounded by fire. The bolts became more powerful and completely focused themselves on Rogue. This time they hit with such force that her invulnerability and strength were not enough to protect her.

“Ahhhhhh!” Rogue cried out as she was sent flying.

“Rogue!” exclaimed Remy.

Braving the dangerous bolts, the Cajun rushed towards her aid. He narrowly avoided being blown back several times, using his agility to reach Rogue.

“Hang on, cherè!” he yelled.

“Remy, look out!” exclaimed Kurt.

He was so close he didn’t notice a particularly large burst erupt from Amanda. It arced out from her body and struck the area between where Rogue was and where Remy was trying to get to. It didn’t hit the Cajun directly, but it did hit with enough impact that it stopped him dead in his tracks.

“Ungh!” he grunted as he fell to the ground.

“Hnn…Remy,” groaned a dazed Rogue.

The Cajun was nearly knocked out. Rogue, who was still reeling from the blast she took earlier, had to play the rescue role now. Her vision was still blurry and her body was aching. But when she saw Remy lying so vulnerable in the midst of so much chaos, she pushed through the pain and reached out to get him.

“Dumb Cajun…trying to save meh like that,” she groaned, “You ain’t the one with the durable body. Now Ah gotta save you.”

Ignoring the irony, Rogue got to the wounded Remy and pulled him away from the chaos. Once he was in her arms, she carried him away from Amanda and the crumbling house. She used her invulnerable form as a shield, allowing her to put some distance between them and Amanda. She took a few light shots along the way, but endured each one of them. That was all she could do for her sake and for Remy’s.

Now Amanda wasn’t moving forward anymore. She was just hovering, the energy around her becoming more volatile. By the time Rogue and Remy escaped to a safe distance, the power had consumed most of the back yard. The entire back part of the house was in ruin and at the rate she was going the neighboring houses would be in trouble as well.

“Can’t…hold on…much…longer,” cried Amanda.

“Vhat does she mean by zhat?” exclaimed Kurt.

“I hate having to say this, but I have no idea,” said Shaman grimly.

“What do you mean? Is this going to kill my daughter or what?!” yelled Margali.

“I doubt it. But I suspect the outcome would be far worse than death.”

Shaman was rarely one to mince words. He wasn’t one to exaggerate either. For Kurt and Margali, it was a daunting prospect. Looking up at Amanda, they saw that she was still clearly in agony. Everything they tried to do for her only made her burden worse. There seemed to be no end to it.

With Kurt and Margali at their emotional limits, Illyana stepped up. She cared about Amanda too, but was not letting emotions paralyze her efforts. This was a mystical problem and it required a mystical solution. She was still a novice in her studies of magic. That didn’t mean she was powerless though.

“If none of you are going to do anything to stop her, then I guess I’ll have to give it a go,” said the Russian girl.

“No Illyana! You’re not ready for this,” said Margali.

“My big brother always stepped up when no one else would. It’s time I put what I have learned to good use,” she said strongly, “This energy is overwhelming her, yes? So if it is too much, why not try and drain if off?”

“You make it sound easy. Do you care at all about what zhat vill do to Amanda?” exclaimed Kurt.

He looked ready to pull Illyana back from doing whatever it was she was planning to do, but Shaman stopped him.

“Wait!” he said, “Illyana may be right. Draining off the energy may help Amanda reassert control. Or at the very least, it will weaken her to a point where Rogue can touch her.”

“But how?” said Margali, who wasn’t too enthused about the plan either, “A spell like that is too complicated, especially for a child.”

“Who says we need a spell?” said Shaman cryptically, “Illyana doesn’t need to drain it through mystical means. She could just as easily use her teleportation powers to siphon off the energy. If she can focus enough to open a gateway to the mystic realm, it should draw the energy into it.”

“Is zhat even possible?” said Kurt skeptically.

“The realm she passes through when she teleports is thick with mystical energy. In theory the energy should be drawn right to it.”

“That is all I am needing to hear,” said Illyana strongly.

Without any further warnings or instructions, the Russian girl stepped out to face this onslaught of mystical energy. Shaman, Margali, and Kurt were not in a position to thwart her. She had been refining her skills for months now. This was her first real test.

Powerful bolts struck dangerously close to her feet as Illyana prepared herself. Amanda looked to be nearing her limits. The reddish energy surrounding her intensified. Her face and body were contorting to the growing strain. The Russian girl did her best to stay focused. Between deep calming breaths, she channeled her power.

‘Piotr is not here to save me this time. I have to be strong on my own for once. I will make him proud.’

Her hands started glowing as she summoned the power within her. She hadn’t used her abilities like this before so she had to improvise. Rather than allow the energy to consume her, she focused it into a small area right in front of her. In this area a bright yellow ball of energy formed and from that ball, a gateway formed. Shaman told her it was because she traveled to this realm in particular that she had such vast mystical potential. She was still learning about just what this realm was. Whatever it was, she made it work for her.

As soon as the gateway was formed, the mysterious red energy started that surrounded Amanda was drawn to it like a magnet. The once chaotic bolts were now being drawn into the gate. This finally stopped the surrounding aura from growing and brought some badly needed relief for Amanda.

“Hnn…so tired,” she groaned.

“It’s working!” exclaimed Margali, “Keep going, Illyana.”

“How long vill she have to do zhis?” asked Kurt.

“As long as it takes,” said Shaman strongly.

It wasn’t clear how long that implied. Now Illyana was the one feeling the strain, having to keep the gate to the realm open. It was a test of endurance, especially for someone of her youth and inexperience. She kept going though, trying to be as strong as her brother taught her to be.

It was painfully gradual, diminishing in ways that didn’t seem noticeable at times. But it was clearly working. Amanda stopped contorting in agony and the once destructive mystic bolts had weakened to less menacing proportions. Eventually, Amanda started drifting lower to the ground. She seemed on the verge of passing out. Illyana was close as well.

“Can’t…keep…going…like this!” grunted Illyana.

The Russian girl appeared to be faltering. This did not go unnoticed by Rogue and Remy. Now that the chaotic energy bursts had receded, Rogue didn’t have to keep shielding Remy with her body.

“Aww…you ain’t gonna cover Remy with that nice body of yours anymore?” said the Cajun in a groggy tone.

“Now seriously ain’t the time, Remy,” said Rogue as she set her sights on Amanda again, “Hold it steady, Yana! Ah think Ah can get to her now!”

“No! I can do this,” yelled Illyana unexpectedly.

“Sugah, don’t be all macho like your brother. You ain’t got the muscles for it yet.”

“Don’t!” she cried out, “Feeling…something strange. Don’t touch her. It could…”

That was all Illyana could get out. With the energy from Amanda still draining into her portal, there was a strange shift. The reddish aura changed color again, shifting back to the yellowish hue it had been earlier. It was now the same hue as the portal itself and triggered a strange reaction with Illyana. Now she was the one surrounded by the energy. It wasn’t as chaotic as Amanda, but it had the same ominous glow. Rogue was still prepared to rush in and knock Amanda out with her touch. Then it all ended.

“I…feel…ahhhhhhhhhhhh!” Amanda cried out.

It happened in the blink of an eye. The portal in front of her erupted in a bright burst of white light. It was so bright it forced Rogue, Remy, Margali, and Shaman to shield their eyes. The moment it faded, the light from Amanda and Illyana faded as well. Illyana’s eyes were now glowing, but Amanda’s tumultuous outburst was over.

“Hnn…” groaned Amanda before passing out.

“Amanda!” Kurt cried out.

Without thinking about what just happened, he teleported over towards his lover and caught her before she hit the ground. She was now completely unconscious. It wasn’t the deep sleep kind of unconscious either. Her body felt cold in his arms and she was barely breathing.

“Amanda…please don’t do zhis to me. Please be alrightc” he said desperately.

Margali came running over. She had a very sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something did not seem right. This horrible affair didn’t seem over just yet.

“No…not this. My sweet little treasure,” she said with tears in her eyes.

“Vhat’s wrong vith her now?” Kurt exclaimed.

“She…she was right. It was too much for her,” said Margali, “She’s alive, but her spirit is wounded.”

“Wounded how?”

“Think of it as a mystical coma,” she said through a strained voice, “One so deep that the line between life and death is practically non-existent. My darling girl…we were too late.”

Kurt was at a loss for words. Despite his faith in her and in their love, everything was getting worse. All the secrets that Amanda had kept from him had hurt her in the worst possible way and there was nothing he could do about it. His father taught him a lot about faith. He never taught him how to cope when faith wasn’t enough.

Kurt and Margali were in tears, weeping over Amanda’s condition. They barely noticed Rogue and Remy staggering over towards them. They were both still woozy from the blows they took earlier. Remy was still leaning on Rogue for support. The severity of their injuries was quickly forgotten when they took in everything that was happening.

“Dang Kurt, Ah…Ah don’t know what to say,” said Rogue, sounding almost desperate in her voice.

“Zhere’s nothing to say, mien sister. Zhis vasn’t your fault,” said Kurt in a low tone.

“Ah ain’t saying it’s anybody’s fault. Ah just…Ah’ve seen that look before. Low spirits…no hope…pain in ways words ain’t ever gonna describe. Ah’ve just never seen it on you.”

“Zhe love of my life is in a coma. Ah zhink I have a right to zhis look right now.”

“No Kurt…don’t,” said Rogue, sounding desperate as well, “You’re supposed to be the one with the strong spirit. Don’t put meh in that position.”

Kurt didn’t even look up at his sister’s desperate eyes. That terrible look that Rogue hated so much lingered as he remained locked on Amanda’s unmoving body. It put Rogue in a position she never wanted to be in. She was supposed to be the one who was bitter about everything. Kurt was supposed to be the one with the undying faith. Now for the first time in all the years she had known him, she saw that faith falter.

Remy stayed silent. Now Rogue was leaning on him more than he was leaning on her. He came to visit her in hopes of helping her feel better. He only arrived in time to see everything take a turn for the worse. If this were a card game, they would have just been dealt the worst possible hand.

“It’ll be okay, cherè,” he told her softly, “You got more spirit than you think.”

“Don’t talk, Cajun. Just…hold meh,”

Remy did as she asked, allowing her to slip into his arms for a gentle embrace. It was a bittersweet gesture, devoid of any answers or solutions to the problem they now faced.

While a harsh new reality set in for Amanda, Shaman’s focus was on Illyana. She was on her knees, her eyes still radiating with the strange mystical energy she had used to stop Amanda’s outburst. Shaman was careful when he approached her, sensing this crisis might not be over just yet.

“Illyana? Are you alright?” he asked her, “You know you can stop now.”

“I…I’m trying,” she said in a dazed tone, “Can’t move…can’t focus. Something feels…wrong.”

Shaman tensed upon hearing her tone. Something felt wrong and it wasn’t just Amanda’s turn for the worse. The very air around them felt out of place in the presence of this mystical outburst. Before he could investigate any further, both he and Illyana got their answers.

From the now decimated house, two shady figures emerged. Their presence quickly drew the attention of the others, but it drew Illyana’s the most.

“Very nicely done,” said Selene, clapping in amusement at the sight before her, “I love what you’ve done with the place, Margali.”

“Agreed, Mistress,” said her apprentice, Madelyn Pryor, “It fits her family so well…wrecked, incompetent, and defeated.”

As they approached, Margali tensed with anger. Her family’s suffering could always seem to be traced back to Selene and the Goblin Queen lineage. Fueled by sorrow, she rose up with Kurt, Rogue, and Remy to confront this devious woman.

“SELENE!” seethed Margali.

You were behind this. I should’ve known,” yelled Kurt, still holding Amanda protectively.

“Your flattery is as pathetic as your outrage,” scoffed Selene, “Do you really think I have been silently working behind the scenes, making your precious child ill, and watching you suffer as a result?”

“Don’t know. That sounds like the shit you do on the weekends,” shot Rogue.

“You know when you put it like that, Mistress…you really don’t make it seem too outrageous,” joked Madelyn.

“True, but consider this…if I were behind it, don’t you think I would have made it painfully obvious so as to worsen your suffering?” she added, “Plus, you’re assuming I was able to get around all your meddlesome mystical shielding.”

“So…you’re saying you didn’t cause Amanda’s nightmares?” said Margali incredulously.

“You knew my mother, Margali. She liked people to know when she was making them look foolish. I think you would agree that I am my mother’s daughter, aren’t I?”

Margali was still seething with hatred for this woman. However, she made a valid point though. It wasn’t in her nature to remain hidden, especially when she was getting the best of her mystical barriers that were supposed to keep her out.

“You give me too much credit. You think I am the only one who causes your daughter to suffer,” Selene scoffed, “She’s a victim of her own destiny. You know that, Margali. Azazel sure didn’t. That’s why he found out the hard way.”

“Mention my father again and I’ll hurt you in vays zhe Phoenix never could,” spat Kurt.

“Spare us the empty threats. We didn’t come here to fight,” said Madelyn, “We were just dropping by hoping to pick up something for our little trip. Since your precious little insomniac over there did such a good job disrupting your mystical shields, it saves us the trouble of excessive fighting.”

“If you think I’ll let you take my daughter away, then you have less brain mass than your mother’s corpse!” yelled Margali.

“Let’s not turn this into a childish game of parental insults,” said Selene dryly, “I haven’t come for Amanda…not yet anyways. Destiny will bring me to her eventually. In the meantime, there’s another talented brat whose birthright I require.”

Selene turned to her apprentice, who grinned with the same sinister leer as her mistress. Madelyn cast a quick spell. Margali, Kurt, Rogue, and Remy took a defensive position and prepared to fight back. That ended up being unnecessary. The attack came, but it wasn’t aimed at them. It was aimed across the yard towards Illyana, who was still frozen in place. When it struck, a dark aura surrounded her.

Shaman picked up on this quickly. He had seen this trick before and knew full well what she was trying to do. Clenching his fists, he prepared to cast a spell of his own.

“The N’astirh gates! I would know that stench anywhere,” he shouted, his fists now glowing brightly, “You’ll need more than goblin hordes to rob me of my pupil.”

“Be careful what you wish for, old man,” grinned Selene.

Shaman was prepared to attack Madelyn, but not defend against Selene. The Black Queen cast a spell of her own, forming a dark ball of energy around her hand that shot out at high speeds and struck Shaman head on. It didn’t knock him back or hit him with overwhelming force. Instead, it caused the ground around him to turn into quicksand, causing him to sink into it until he was up to his neck. It rendered him unable to protect his paralyzed pupil.

“No! Illyana!” he grunted as he struggled with his confinement.

“I feel it again. It’s calling me. What is it?” said the Russian girl, her body going ridged.

“You’ll find out soon enough, little one. Be sure to pack your sun screen. The tropics are so brutal to pale skin,” taunted Madelyn.

The Russian girl stood still as a statue as a circular gate opened beneath her feet. Form this gate, several of Madelyn’s goblin minions grabbed her. If she hadn’t been so stiff, she would have screamed out in horror. As the goblins swarmed her, the strange glow in her eyes turned from yellow to dark purple. Once this darkness consumed her, the expression on her young face changed. The frozen horror turned into a deep trance, not unlike the one Amanda had been in earlier. Only this time, it was completely under Selene and Madelyn’s control.

“I have her.” said Madelyn, “We’re ready, Mistress.”

“That officially makes us ahead of schedule,” Selene boasted, “In addition to Amanda being neutralized earlier than I suspected, I say this is a very productive day indeed. Now take us to Mount Anton. Our prize awaits us!”

With a single gesture, Madelyn’s eyes flashed brightly once more and she, Madelyn, and Selene were consumed by a yellowish energy. Then with Shaman, Margali, Kurt, Rogue, and Remy watching in bewilderment, a blinding flash consumed the whole area. The moment it faded, Selene and Madelyn were gone and so was Illyana.

Next Issue: Civilization No Longer Lost

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