The Cast of Shadows
Chapter Four: If You Truly Wish to Be
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world, there's nothing to it
There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination
Living there, you'll be free
If you truly wish to be
Accessing Cerebro Files
I thought that I might relay my story now, while it is still fresh in my mind. Who am I kidding, though? I’m a telepath, my mind so organized that I can call up a memory and relive it as if it were yesterday. Perhaps I need to talk now because I am so very excited. This is how I came to encounter Emma Frost.
I’ll start at the beginning. It happened the very day we X-Men proceeded on our first strategic mission. We had flown to a remote building in Nebraska, to the place that served as Sinister’s base of operations. There, we were to recover what information we could on the mutant virus that Sinister had inadvertently created. I did not choose to go on the physical mission, instead I had stayed behind in the X-Jet and was in telepathic commune with my teammates. While the team was entrenched within Sinister’s lab, a truly horrible feeling of panic overwhelmed us all. Sinister, seemingly back from the grave, staggered forth from the shadows. Gambit’s telepathic link to me was tenuous at best, but at that moment, his thoughts ran through us all like a live current. I admit, I panicked. With a shriek, I yanked myself free from the telepathic link and fell over my chair. I must have blacked out for a moment, because I didn’t remember falling or getting the bruise on my shoulder that came as a result. While I was temporarily unconscious however, a great sense of comfort and ease settled over me. It was a feeling I have only felt when I am here, talking with you. I think I might have stepped foot onto the Astral Plane, for there before me materialized a presence. I could not make out a face or even a shape, but there was a feeling that someone, or some*thing* was standing before me. The strange presence reached out to me, and it was but a hair’s breath away from touching my wavering Astral Form when I regained consciousness.
The sight of Polaris greeted me; her face hovering over me was grim and concerned. Her green eyes were made more lustrous by the tears that glazed them. She was tapping my cheek lightly with the palm of her hand.
“Jean,” she was calling. “Jean, Jeannie are you all right?”
It was so strange hearing her physical voice again, after having been communicating with her mind to mind, that at first I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I sat up and looked around me. I was still in the X-Jet. The X-Men were still on their mission. Despite the shock I had felt when Sinister had appeared, I was now calm and centered. Polaris was still talking to me. Finally, I turned to her and told her I was fine. I think my serenely bland voice might have confused her or startled her, because she quickly backed away.
The rest of the mission went by in a blur. I was sipping water from a paper cup when the X-Men returned to the X-Jet. Logan, Scott, and Hank had all removed their suits, but Kitty and Rogue had not. Logan was carrying Remy, who appeared to be unconscious. With a sweep of his hairy arms, Hank gestured for Kitty and Rogue to go to the back of the jet where the medical equipment was stored. Logan followed after them with the silent Cajun in his arms. A gurney was trundled into the jet bearing a sheet-covered body. Scott gave me an odd look, and took up the seat as co-pilot. My teammates must have spoken, but for the life of me, I cannot recall a single thing that was said during the flight back home. The world had fallen silent around me. All I could think about was the presence I had felt on the Astral Plane. I knew I had to go back and soon.
We had a debriefing meeting afterward, which passed in a fog for me. I think Scott had spoken up on my behalf. Like Gambit, perhaps they had thought I was in a state of emotional shock. I was not. I felt fine. Good, actually...and excited.
That night as I lay in bed, I let my thoughts lead me back to the Astral Plane. Though I did not know it at the time, I had formed a sort of reality in the mind-world so that I might be able to transverse it. The Astral Plane is a place far removed from the physical. There is nothing there save for the stream of conscious thought. I came to know later that the things I perceived as being real were fabrications of my own imagination. A ground to walk upon, air to breathe...even the sounds of my footsteps were created from my own mind. They were there because I expected them to be. All around me thoughts swirled like so many colorful ribbons. I began to walk. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew I would find something, somewhere. I have no recollection of how much time had passed, it seemed like no time at all, when I came upon a change in my environment. The ground beneath me, which had been a nondescript plane of nothing, began to change color. It was green, and slightly spongy beneath the tread of my feet. After a few moments, I could make out blades of grass. Up ahead, fuzzy incoherent forms loomed, and as I approached, began to coalesce into chocolate brown tree trunks. Each trunk was topped with a dollop of perfect green leaves. I say this because the trees had the appearance of a stick with a fluffy ball of green cotton stuck on top. The ground was dotted with small white flowers, like daisies. Each had five large petals and a large yellow center. So strange they seemed, and so simplistic. They were more like the idea of a flower rather than being a flower itself. Just as the trees. I walked for a while, marveling at the forest around me, when I heard the sound of a lilting voice floating amongst the trees.
I came upon a clearing to find a small white table set with a pink lace tablecloth and fine white china. There were four white chairs at the table. Seated at one was a white cat with clear blue eyes. She (for I knew it was female judging by the glittering pearl necklace and small tiara she wore) was sitting up on her hind legs, her tail demurely curled over her toes. She wore delicate lace gloves and held a set of silver tongs in one paw as she plopped a sugar cube into her tea. Seated across from the cat was a goose. The goose had a gray bouffant hairstyle and a pair of rhinestone pince-nez clipped to her beak. She was talking to the white cat, apparently hoarding the conversation to herself. If this weren’t strange enough, beyond the little table setting was a pink unicorn, happily munching at the blades of grass.
I stood at the edge of the clearing trying to get my bearings. As I watched the cat and goose, a young girl emerged from the forest with a platter of cookies. She was perhaps ten years old; wearing a white lacy dress tied in the back with a pink ribbon. A pink bow was fastened to the back of her small blond head.
“Here we are ladies,” she said as she presented the cookies to the table with a little flourish.
“How delightful!” said the cat in a silky voice. “Emma, you certainly know how to treat your guests.”
“That is what I always say,” the goose informed them primly. “I always tell my bridge group, ‘Girls, no one has better tea parties than Miss Emma Frost!’ Yes, that is what I always say!”
Emma nodded to the goose and sat down on her chair. She dropped her napkin onto her lap. She was about to speak further to the goose when she spotted me. Her delicate little hand fluttered to her chest and her mouth formed a little ‘O.’
“Look ladies,” she said. “Another guest has arrived!”
The cat and goose turned to look in my direction. The goose sniffed haughtily, but the cat declined her head in my direction.
Cautiously, I approached the trio. “Hello,” I said. “My name is Jean.”
Emma stood and curtsied. “I’m Emma Frost,” she said. “Welcome to my tea party. Won’t you have a seat?”
“I’m hardly dressed for the occasion,” I replied, looking down at myself. I was wearing my black and gold X-Men uniform.
Emma’s head cocked to the side. “We can change that,” she said. When I looked down again, I saw myself in a pastel pink gown with long satin gloves. I stood stunned for several moments. It was surprising to find myself in a dress only a ten-year-old would find pretty. Not only that, but I was amazed at how she had exuded her control over my perceptions to make me actually believe I was wearing the gown. After the shock wore off, I joined the party.
“This is Miss Sophie de la Bidet,” said Emma, gesturing to the cat. I smiled at Sophie, and tried to hide my mirth.
“How very nice to meet you,” I said, bowing my head slightly.
“Enchanté,” Miss Bidet replied.
“And may I introduce Mrs. Georgia Downsworth,” Emma said turning to the goose.
“A pleasure, Mrs. Downsworth,” I told the goose.
Mrs. Downsworth gave me an appraising glare, and then brought her cup of tea to her beak. One of her pinion feathers was extended, just as a human would extend a pinky finger.
“Emma,” I began, “how did you come to be here?”
Emma smiled cheerily. “Isn’t it cool---I mean...isn’t it enchanting?” she asked. “I love it here! I come to this place all the time.”
“Do you? I’ve only been once or twice. This is the first time I’ve ever met anyone.”
“Oh me too!” she said. “Except for my friends here,” she said nodding toward her companions.
“You have to be special to come to Imaginary World,” she continued knowingly. “You have to be able to have powers like mine. Do you have mind-speak?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” I told her. She was so young, I thought. Yet she seemed to be in perfect control of her powers. My telepathy had surfaced when I was just her age, as well. But at the time, my powers had been traumatizing. Emma was reveling in her mutantcy. “Did you come here on your own?” I asked her.
“Nuh-uh,” she replied, her mouth full of cookie. If her companions noticed her breech of manners, they made no comment. “I had help. My special friend showed me here.”
“Really?” I said, leaning forward. “Who is that?”
Emma looked over her shoulder at the pink unicorn grazing in the grass. “You see over there?” she asked. “That’s Crumpet. Only it’s not really Crumpet, cause my special friend told me Crumpet’s brain wasn’t smart enough to come to Imaginary World.”
“So you created a facsimile of Crumpet,” I said to myself wondrously.
“What? No, I made him out of my head,” Emma told me. “Except I made him pink and gave him a unicorn horn.”
“He’s very pretty,” I replied.
“Won’t you have some tea, dear?” asked Mrs. Downsworth, interrupting our conversation.
“Thank you,” I said as she lifted the teapot and poured a stream of pink-hued tea into my cup. I lifted the cup, marveling at the feel of the fine smooth porcelain in my fingertips. It was faintly translucent, and was warm from the tea. When I put the thin rim of the cup to my lips I was surprised to smell the scent of strawberries and see the faint stream of steam from the liquid’s surface. Then I tasted the tea. Marvelous! I could even taste things here on the Astral Plane! Though the tea tasted of hot Kool-Aid, I was still pleased. Thoughts were churning through my mind.
First of all, I had learned that the Astral Plane could be changed. I could possibly make it to suit my own desires, just as Emma had. Second: perceptions could be altered. I could exert sensations and images on others, and make them believe they were real. And thirdly: Emma was a very, very clever girl. Her observations were extremely acute. Though her ideas of trees, flowers, and grass were vague and childlike, I assumed that was due to her sense of space. The surroundings were an afterthought. She was aware of them, and filled them in as she would a page from a coloring book. But her immediate surroundings were brilliantly clear. From the cup in my hands so painstakingly created, to the scent of crushed grass beneath my feet...the crumbling texture of the cookies. It was amazing how * aware * she was. I was envious of her abilities and all at once I was determined to create my own world.
I still had one question on my mind, one she had thus far failed to answer. “Emma, who is your special friend?” I asked.
Emma’s eyes darted away from mine. Finally she asked: “Would you like to meet him?”
I nodded and she stood. We left the cat and the goose to their own devices. I followed her away from the party and into the forest. As she walked through the trees, I watched as our surroundings became more real. The grass gave way to soft green moss. Red and white speckled mushrooms dotted the forest floor. In the canopy above, birds twittered and called. The shadows deepened between the trees. A strange mercurial form darted from tree to tree in the distance. I paused as I tried to make it out.
“Wait,” Emma said, as she came to a halt. We watched as the shadow passed, then came to a halt just beyond Emma’s circle of clarity. Beyond was fuzziness and blurred shapes. Her consciousness could only extend so far. Finally, the shadow approached slowly. I realized that it walked on all fours, like an animal. It came to a halt with its forepaws up on a fallen tree trunk and stared at me.
The creature bore the resemblance of a very large dog or wolf. Its body was covered in tawny brown fur, which glinted gold in the dappled sunlight. His head was like that of a baboon, with a flat bare muzzle that ended in a blunt snout. Intelligent, black eyes bore into me from beneath a heavy brow. Just behind his brow was a crest of long hair that fell on either side of his face and over his massive shoulders, like a mane. I noticed immediately, the sharp black incisors in his mouth and the three long claws that protruded from his forepaws. About his neck under the ruff of fur was a silver collar that trailed a heavy chain. Manacles rested on his ankles above his oversized paws. The golden plume of his tail rose and waved once.
“Who are you?” I asked, awestruck.
“He doesn’t talk,” Emma said, matter-of-factly. “He can’t talk here.”
I looked over at her. “What do you mean?”
“He’s chained to the Imaginary World, see,” she said, pointing to his chains, the length of which seemed to be immeasurably long, for they ran from his neck and along the ground as far as the eye could see. “His name is Shadow.”
I hung back, still unsure of the animal before me. Emma walked right up to him and placed her small hand upon his muzzle. The size of the beast dwarfed her small form. “He’s nice,” she said and then hugged the animal about the neck.
I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I saw Shadow roll his eyes. Swallowing nervously, I approached and stretched out my fingertips. Shadow stretched his head forward eagerly and his tail waved. My hand trailed over the black naked skin of his face over his brow and into his mane. Upon contact, I do believe I fell in love. I stroked Shadow’s long silky fur. His eyes looked into mine.
“Is he...is he your pet?” I asked Emma. Shadow made a sort of snorting noise, then shook his head like a dog after a bath.
Emma looked at Shadow, then at me. A grin crept over her face. “My pet. Oh, yes!” she said as if she had just realized it. She then flung her arms about his neck. “He’s all mine!”
Continued in Chapter 5
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