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
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
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
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,
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
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
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