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"Death of a Dream"

Death of a Dream

Chapter 1: Homecoming
Chapter 2: Old Ghosts
Chapter 3: Strange Bedfellows
Chapter 4: Melancholy Memories
Chapter 5: Of Love and Betrayal
Chapter 6: Innocence Lost
Chapter 7: Of Friendship and Discovery
Chapter 8: First Blood
Chapter 9: Cast Out
Chapter 10: Revelations
Chapter 11: Of Love and Hope
Chapter 12: Stolen Lives
Chapter 13: Bad Dreams
Chapter 14: The Ties that Bind
Chapter 15: A Hero's Life
Chapter 16: Old Wounds
Chapter 17: A Time of Last Things
Chapter 18: The Final Countdown
Chapter 19: Battlezone
Chapter 20: Zero Hour
Chapter 21: A Glimmer of Hope

The sequel to this story is "The Resurrection Gauntlet."

Death of a Dream

Chapter 20: Zero Hour

"Infidels!" Magneto's voice spat hatefully, his eyes burning red as embers as he touched down on the ground. "I should strike each and every one of you down for the mockery you have made of the Brotherhood today."

For a split second that seemed to stretch into eternity, everyone stopped moving, their faces turning as one toward the man they all feared more than death itself.

Psylocke cowered only momentarily before slinking up next her lord and master and falling to her knees before him. He paid no attention to her, his burning gaze fixed on the battlefield, each person staring back in utter, complete fear. He raised one fist high in the air, drawing the attention of everyone present as their eyes followed it into the sky. He held it there for a long, tense moment, as if he expected everyone to simply stand there and ponder what he would do next, but the X-Men were already moving.

They made it about five steps before his upraised hand clenched into a fist, causing each and every one of them to fall to the ground, clutching their bodies in agony as the magnetic particles of the very air began to crush them. The surviving members of the Brotherhood regrouped, smiles lighting their faces as they saw their enemies fall. The Juggernaut rose sluggishly from the ground, regaining consciousness through the Shadow Kings manipulations while Spiral struggled to free herself from her bonds of earth.

Storm alone fought against the magnetic pressure which threatened to crush her like a vice, forcing her head to rise and meet the Shadow Kings fierce glare. Blood trickled freely from her nose, and it was clear that the effort cost her dearly, but she did not relent as her face curled up into a snarl. "You shall never have dominion over me, Amahl," she proclaimed, trying to force her body to rise.

"Oh, dear Ororo, you have always struggled hardest against my wishes. But no longer. Today, I put an end to you and your vaunted X-Men." His gaze fell on her alone, and his fist clenched even tighter as he pulled his arm in against his side.

Storm fell with a harsh cry, her form curling up into a fetal position as blood began to leak from every orifice of her body. It was clear to everyone present that her bare force of will was the only thing keeping her alive.

It was in that moment that Rogue chose to act.

Quicker than lightning, she moved, grabbing hold of Psylockes arm as she stood unsuspecting at her masters side, drawing the power out her body with more speed than anyone had ever suspected she possessed. A mere second later, Psylocke lay unconscious and Rogue ignited a crackling, pink-purple psi-knife from her right hand. In the few seconds all these actions took, the Shadow King turned, his attention falling from Storm to Rogue, and Rogue found the look of surprise on his face most satisfying as she plunged the psi-knife into his head without pause.

The man who had been Magneto screamed at the top of his lungs, but did not fall to the ground, refusing to give in to the burning sensation of his synapses. Rogue kept the psi-knife embedded deeply, using the skin-to-skin contact of her fist against his forehead to begin drawing his essence out. It was harder than she expected; the pain Psylockes psi-knife was causing reflecting back into her own mind through their link, but she struggled on, knowing all their lives depended on this...on her.

Only now, while his mind was in such a state of disarray could she sort through it and draw forth the essence of the Shadow King. He was almost mercurial though, and each time she thought she had found him, he slipped away again. She pushed out the memories that were those of the men called Magnus and Joseph, blocking their powers out as well. Taking the Shadow Kings essence would be more than she could handle as it was, she could not afford to overdo it and take the other, residual memories as well. Sweat began to bead on her forehead from sheer effort as she fought to grab hold of him. The pain was becoming overwhelming, like white-hot knives in her skull, each synapse and nerve screaming with the unnatural torment. At some point, her own screams joined those of the Shadow King, and they wailed their anguish at the skies together.

Gambit watched tensely from his place nearby, hands tightening and twisting on his bo staff nervously. She had warned him it would be this way; that the pain would cause her to cry out. She had also warned him not to interfere, no matter what happened. If she died, so be it; this was the only way they could be rid of the Shadow King once and for all. In his mind, he knew that, it even made sense...but in his heart, all he saw was the woman he loved with all his heart in terrible, agonizing pain. He fought against his instincts with every fiber of his being, forcing himself to hold steady and wait, reminding himself that he had his own part to play in this plan. When Nightcrawler teleported in next to Rogue mere seconds later, it was a most welcome distraction.

Nightcrawler had barely gotten his mouth open to speak when Gambit slammed into his side feet first, the kick stealing all the breath from his lungs. Even as he fell and gasped for air, he tried to teleport out, but with the pain and lack of concentration, his abilities seemed to be failing him.

"Get up, Kurt," Gambit said stonily, raising his bo staff for another strike. "Or I kill you where you lay."

The air slowly returning to his lungs, Nightcrawler began to chuckle in short coughing bursts, and somewhere in the back of his mind he dimly realized that several of his ribs were probably broken, resulting in a lung puncture. But he took no note of it at the time, struggling to his knees and then to his feet, drawing two swords from his sides. A third sword was held curled in the fork of his tail, and the smile on his face was almost frightening as he moved in toward Gambit, eyes ablaze.

He's insane, Gambit thought, already bringing his bo staff up to block two of the sword arcs and rolling to avoid the third blow. Nightcrawler continued moving in, forcing Gambit to back up and put more distance between them. Not only did Kurt have the advantage of three weapons and incredible agility, but he fought with the single-mindedness of one who had been brainwashed to fulfill only one objective. As a sword tip rushed past his nose, missing it by mere centimeters, the cajun was forced to admit that he might just be outmatched.

Rogue and the Shadow Kings screams rose in pitch, seeming to build to a crescendo as they struggled against each other, locked in a deadly embrace. With a supreme effort, Rogue thrust herself farther into the mind that had been Magnetos, pushing down into the very center core of his consciousness. There! She snagged hold of his shadowy essence with every bit of will she possessed, dragging it kicking and screaming into her soul.

You're mine, Amahl Farouk, she thought to herself, a smug smile twisting her face as she drew the last of the soul that was the Shadow King into her body.

No, you are MINE! a voice blasted inside her head, and then she could feel him. Like an inky blackness, a blight upon her soul, twisting her inside out. She could feel him filling her, seeping into her mind like a dark fog, sapping her will and deadening her senses as he began to absorb her. She clung desperately to the thread of life that was still her own, the very essence that made her who she was, trying to protect it from him even as she continued to pull him into her.

With a wrenching cry, she yanked free the last of his essence, breaking the cord and connection between them, consuming him as completely as he was now trying to consume her. Unable to help herself, she staggered backwards, almost drunk with power and overwhelmed by his psyche. She collapsed to the ground without a further sound, the world around her rapidly swimming toward blackness.

Out of the corner of his eye, Gambit saw Rogue go down. He knew, that this too, was part of the plan, and he intended to use it for all it was worth. He began to maneuver away from Nightcrawler again, backing toward the direction of Magneto and Rogue's limp forms, almost imperceptibly leading their battle there. Parrying a flurry of blows, he barely managed to keep his hide intact as Kurt's swords sliced the air all around him, whistling through the air in a quick song of bloodlust. Just a few more steps, Remy, he thought as he continued to backpedal, just a few more...

He almost tripped over her still form before he realized he was on top of her. Pivoting on one foot, he spun, bringing his bo staff around to block any incoming blows. In one smooth motion he lifted Rogue's body from the ground and spun back to face his attacker.

"Only a true coward would use a defenseless woman as a shield," Nightcrawler hissed mockingly.

"More like a weapon, mon ami," Gambit shot back, bringing Rogue's arm up and shoving the still crackling psi-knife into Kurt's brain. Gambit grunted in satisfaction as his opponent collapsed to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

He didn't waste a moment gloating, though, as he carried Rogue farther away from Nightcrawler and Magneto's unconscious bodies and gently laid her down in the grass. Sitting down on his knees and bending down over her, he gently stroked her cheek with one gloved finger, trying to soothe the lines of tension from her face as she fought her inner battle. "C'mon chere...come back to me," he whispered fervently.

From a distance, Kitty saw Nightcrawler go down, a victim of Rogue's stolen psi-blade. She had no idea why Rogue and Gambit seemed to be helping them, but she certainly wasn't going to question it at this point. With something almost like sick fascination, she pulled herself away from Colossus' side. She had already tended to his wounds, and he seemed to be doing fairly well despite the punctures to his armor.

"Katya...," he called as she rose. "Where are you going?"

"To finish it," she replied, her voice cold as ice as she turned her back on him and walked toward the crest of the hill where Nightcrawler lay.

Psylocke cursed as loudly as she could as she awoke, holding her still swimming head tightly in her hands. Rogues power sure packed a punch, she thought, despite the fact that no physical harm was done. At least it doesn't last long, she realized as her head began to clear. She leapt to her feet, dark purple eyes already darting over the field as she searched for Rogue. "Where are you, you damned mud-rat," she muttered under her breath.

"Hello, Betsy," a voice from behind answered her, rough and gravelly in its texture, nothing like Rogues lilting southern voice. She recognized him as soon as she spoke, the voice touching off several old memories of the times they had spent together, fighting side by side. For a time, they had almost been partners while separated from the rest of the X-Men. But today, on this field, she knew she faced him at last, finally and completely, as an enemy.

"Hello, Logan," she replied, her voice calm and even, just barely clipped with her British accent.

He nodded once, and then popped his adamantium claws with an almost silent "snikt" sound. "Don't know why you did what you done, darlin', an' I suppose it don't really matter. But it ends here, today, one way or the other."

"Is that so?" she asked quietly, inclining her head slightly as if to hear him better.

He nodded solemnly, and in his dark eyes she could see the regret he felt inside. They had been close friends once, partners even, and Logan was nothing if not loyal and honor-bound. But he would also do what he had to do, she could see that in his eyes as well. Even if it meant killing her.

"Then let's get to it, shall we?" she asked almost cordially, firing her psi-knife to life.

He stood, looking at her for just a moment longer, and Betsy felt a chill run down her spine as she realized he was looking at her as if it would be for the last time.


Continued in Chapter 21


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