Note: This chapter contains some mature themes.

A Test of Power

Chapter 10

Extreme justice is often unjust.
Jean Racine

The present

Without any intention of stopping, the New York Police Department squad car carrying two uniformed officers rocketed down the street. A hodgepodge of trash and dirt was blown into the air creating a debris filled whirlwind and was the only visible sign to mark the police car's passage.

Despite the fact that the area was known for both the sale and use of illegal drugs as well as a haven for pimps and prostitutes, the criminal activity clearly evident on this very street was ignored. Police officers, particularly of the uniformed variety, were rarely seen here even when requested -- or needed. A greater or more serious crime was taking place in a more deserving neighborhood that demanded the attention of the law enforcement officers. The natives more often than not were left to fend for themselves.

Ominous peals of thunder rolled across the threatening skies, partially drowning out the fading wail of the siren that rebounded off the crumbling structures lining both sides of the street. The temporary tempest suffused with the mournful klaxon and sang the dirge of the city.

Urban squalor. Such a convenient term used to describe what Apocalypse thought, was such a lucid indicator of societies inevitable collapse. He looked about him; an unmistakable expression of disgust crossed his features. The surrounding buildings, some built as recently as thirty years ago, looked more decrepit and aged than the ancient structures of his native Egypt. He felt nothing but contempt for this area -- this Borough of New York City called the Bronx. It seemed to Apocalypse as if this locale was a focal point that drew the most feeble individuals of society -- a repository for weaklings.

While he was a proponent of survival of the fittest, these people were hardly surviving -- not in any way that Apocalypse understood things. To him, they were more like a cancer, a malignant tumor that needed to be cutout to stop its spread to the rest of the body. These areas only survived -- the people only survived because of societies misplaced charity, its pervasive disillusionment that people like this could be helped.

As he walked to his intended destination, he was propositioned by both men and women. He would simply ignore them. His size as well as his demeanor quickly disqualified him as a potential mark or victim, or even a prospective client. One look at his face and even the most determined peddlers were quickly dissuaded from pressing any further. He appeared to be a perfectly normal human being, but it was easy to see that his eyes were the eyes of a predator -- not prey, and that it would be best for their sake that he be left alone.

Apocalypse knew that the people who approached him on the street sold their bodies to support their vices. They suffered from a mental fragility that could only be borne through the haze of alcohol or drugs. He had seen it in many cities throughout the world -- in different times, over many centuries. The past and the present were very much alike when dealing with mankind's vulnerable underbelly -- the easily broken. He had often wished he could deal with this problem as he saw fit, if he were not -- restrained from doing so. Civilization would be much different from what it was today.

So it was here, amongst humanities refuse, this abandoned apartment building -- it was here that he would find his quarry.

He left the street, the impending storm clouds and the sun already much too low to cast anything but eerie shadows through the broken windows and partially open doorway. Apocalypse stepped inside and his eyes immediately adjusted to the murky interior. Garbage covered most of the floor space leaving very little room to walk. What were once solid and intact walls, now consisted of crumbling sheetrock and splintered wood, exposing a tangle of electrical wiring and plumbing. The stink of vomit, urine, and feces, permeated this area even though it was so close to the entrance and outside air. Although the odor was unpleasant, it did not disturb Apocalypse in the slightest. He was quite familiar with the scent of decay in all its forms. Raccoon-size rats brazenly walked across the debris ignoring his presence, engrossed with their relentless and single-minded search for food.

He turned down a hallway, startling three men that were involved in some sort of transaction. Two of them immediately fled, while one chose to stay, angrily advancing on Apocalypse. Apocalypse supposed that his anger stemmed from the fact that he had intruded on the man's livelihood, and calmly watched as he pulled a large grease-coated kitchen knife from inside of a torn and soiled shirt. An incoherent string of what might have been obscenities issued from an almost completely toothless mouth. Apocalypse reached out and almost faster than the eye could follow snapped his neck and tossed him aside like a rag doll. The man's life was snuffed out so quickly that his enraged expression was still frozen on his face when he landed among a large gathering of rodents, who quickly went to work on this unexpected source of sustenance.

He walked to a set of stairs that led to the building basement. He moved down the cement steps silently, his pace unhurried. The lighting was sporadic; overhead bulbs were either burned out or broken and left large areas completely unlit. Apocalypse had no difficulty negotiating through the nebulous underground room. He could see in almost complete darkness or could illuminate the area himself if he so desired.

From his current location, he could hear faint murmuring and the subdued moans of a sizable group of people. The noise resembled the sounds that patients from a military field hospital might make, but were different because these were not the painful cries of the wounded. It almost sounded as if they were in some way diminished or depleted -- giving the impression that they were close to death and had given up. Apocalypse knew that he was nearing his goal.

He came upon a series of large tanks -- possibly hot water heaters or storage containers for fuel, which had at one time provided a source of heat for the building. The foundation walls were covered with a thick coating of dirt or more probably soot from the nearby oil-burning furnace. In between two of the tanks, a mother and her baby were propped up against the ash covered cinderblock walls, a dark and foreboding backdrop to an even darker reality.

Apocalypse stopped for a moment, regarding the two humans and stood no more than a few feet in front them. The child, no more than two weeks old, was nosily suckling on a flaccid and grime covered breast. It struggled tenaciously, attempting to find nourishment where there was none. Apocalypse was surprised that the mother had been able to give birth to the child at all. An abundance of track marks covered the mottled skin of both of her exposed arms. She made no attempt to hide her long-standing addiction. The fact that the baby was still alive was also unexpected, but that it fought to remain so was not.

Life was stubborn in all its forms. During his long life, Apocalypse had come across many individuals dogged in their perseverance -- their will to live unbreakable despite any obstacle. Young or old, poor or sick, those who truly understood the great and worthwhile struggle that life was, would never surrender -- would not go easily into the night. This simple child epitomized that unyielding spirit but would have no chance to prove its determination any further. It was grossly underweight, malnourished, and had been forced to endure the most unsanitary living conditions. Additionally, the mother's drug use during her pregnancy had most certainly doomed the child to experience any number of mental and physical deficiencies in its future -- a future that it would never have. Its hold on life was already too tenuous to have any real chance. Apocalypse could see with his mutant ability that its life force had already sunk much too low, beyond even his technologically advanced abilities to do any good. He judged that it would die -- painfully over the next few days.

He would kill the child first, quickly and mercifully.

The mother seemed to momentarily come out of her drugged induced stupor and see him for the first time. She leered at him, a practiced and artificial expression meant to beguile. "What do you want honey?" She licked her lips with a swollen and white spotted tongue. Stained and crooked teeth did their best to smile at him seductively. Apocalypse answered her smile with a short but intense and focused burst of radiation. Her skin immediately started to redden and blister as her internal organs began to cook her from the inside out. A scream of pain escaped her lips as long dead nerve endings came suddenly and ferociously to life. Apocalypse's rare demonstration of mercy for the child did not extend to her.

After proceeding a short distance further, Apocalypse stepped into a large storage chamber. About forty people were scattered about the room wearing little or no clothing whatsoever. The majority appeared to be incoherent, either enthralled by their captor or from drug use -- or quite possibly Apocalypse supposed mentally ill. It was apparent that many hadn't moved for some time and were lying in their own excrement. The air was heavy, almost pasty, although the smell of death easily overshadowed the stench of human waste and filth. With just a glance, Apocalypse quickly counted nine corpses, all in various stages of decay. A frothing sea of maggots writhed over the remains and clouds of flies buzzed about the room. They had died of unnatural causes. Apocalypse could see several different protruding knife handles, a shattered skull, and a crushed rib cage. Groans of pain and despair filled the room -- a fertile feeding ground for the Shadow King.

It was a simple matter to locate his target. Other than himself, only one other individual was standing. Apocalypse studied his face from the distance. The man's eyes were closed, and the apparent look of bliss on his face was somehow incongruent with the sickly skin tone painted across harsh angular features. Keen eyes snapped open and a voracious curiosity immediately focused on him.

"You've taken a wrong turn my friend...a very wrong turn indeed," he said with a look of malicious glee. "Or are you here for a reason -- a police officer perhaps?" he scoffed.

Apocalypse walked towards the man slowly, self-possessed, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him. "I am indeed here for a reason -- to see you Ahmal Farouk."

Eyebrows ascended to the top of an almost noseless skull that seemed devoid of any skin covering. "Ah, I see you know me but I am at a bit of a disadvantage." The Shadow King spoke in a sibilant tone of voice, a whisper so low that it was almost obligatory to listen. "Perhaps you'd like to enlighten me about your knowledge of my identity and introduce yourself as well?" he said in a conspiratorial manner that was mocking at the same time. "After all," he gestured at the depravity that surrounded him, "we live in a civilized society. Propriety, formalities, etiquette -- those are the simple and sometimes superficialities that make us men, are they not?" Sunken eyes that were nothing but dark holes stared out of a twisted face that grimaced with something resembling the sound of laughter.

The Shadow King could easily wrest the answers to his questions from practically any mind by using his mutant powers. He instead chose to first employ conventional means. He often enjoyed toying with his prey, especially the strong-minded ones -- or the ones who initially thought of themselves as strong. It was so much more satisfying when his quarry believed that they were in control and then discovered who and what they were facing. He would often possess the form of the least physically intimidating individual he could find for just that reason. It was just that much more shocking -- that much more terrifying for the victim and always provided him with such a succulent feast. He believed that this one -- the man in front of him would prove to be just that. The man's knowledge though was unexpected and there was something about his boldness -- his composure that disturbed him at some level. His demeanor amongst the horror that surrounded him was most unusual. He smiled cruelly. In the end, it made little difference. Human or mutant, perhaps this witless fool would provide him with some uncommon sport before succumbing to his usual charms.

Apocalypse looked about him distastefully. "At first glance it would appear that you prey upon the weak but that is not entirely true. You instead cultivate the weak, bolstering the least desirable qualities, intensifying fears for your own pleasure. Your powers are an anathema to the natural order, and would eventually conflict with my plans for this planet and its inhabitants -- my vision." Apocalypse's impossibly deep voice grew deeper still. "A pride of lions targets the weak, the sick, the old and in the process strengthens the herd and its future generations. You serve no such purpose, quite the contrary actually. Without the easily corruptible, the cowardly, you could not survive. You would promote and foster all these pathetic qualities and contaminate both mutants and humans on a grand scale. This I cannot allow."

Shrewd and keen senses beyond the Shadow King's mutant ability were triggered. When one was used to having almost ultimate power, sometimes these senses -- these survival instincts were dulled to the point of dormancy. But this was not the case with Ahmal Farouk who readily recognized that the stranger was not making a show of intimidation. No, there was definite power behind the words -- the Shadow King could feel it.

"You know much about me stranger and yet you believe you have it within your power to stop me?" The Shadow King's tone had become spiteful but his bearing had changed slightly, and unconsciously assumed a more defensive posture.

"I have it within my power to kill or enslave you. This time, and only this time I will allow you a choice between the two."

He almost laughed but stopped himself. The certainty in which the stranger said these words was almost unnerving, but the Shadow King was not easily intimidated. "Not much of a choice but a magnanimous gesture on your part none the less. Perhaps the person who would hold my very life in his hands could provide me with a name?" The Shadow King's tone was sardonic, but a seething anger had underscored his words.

"You require a name? You know of me, but have wisely chosen to avoid me."

The Shadow King moved closer to the intruder and had begun to compel those in his thrall into action. He had yet to probe the stranger telepathically and curiously enough, did not know the reason why.

"The great and powerful self-proclaimed king of shadows, how terrifying. Many kings have fallen before me -- one just recently." A sound like a rockslide of huge boulders filled the room as Apocalypse laughed. "I've known and watched you over many years. I've seen your powers grow, your confidence swell. Only a very short time ago, you were just a fledgling mutant telepath, only able to possess the most weak-minded humans. Later, with some discipline, your power and skill matured, which allowed you to control some of your own kind -- feeble-minded mutants."

The Shadow King's eyes narrowed perceptibly. "You seek to provoke me, why?" His back stiffened. Morbid interest and seething anger combined, forming a volatile mix.

With a voice devoid of any compassion, Apocalypse's words and tone were incontestable. "The only child of a drunk and abusive father. A father who derived sadistic pleasure in torturing innocent, helpless children -- even his own flesh and blood. How tragic. But it was the only time that your father was happy -- when he was inflicting pain on others, was it not?"

A sharp and incredulous intake of breath from the Shadow King confirmed the validity of Apocalypse's words. "You are about to receive an excruciating lesson in the art of pain," he rasped, his voice dripping with spite. All those in his control were compelled to grab any weapon and were driven into a murderous rage. It was a testament to the Shadow King's power that despite their physically depleted condition, those controlled by his potent and poisoned mind were still able to move.

Apocalypse continued, any threat to his person was ignored. "My former associate was fascinated by how your mutant powers were formed. He called it an aberrant form of telepathy because of your rather special childhood. Pain associated with pleasure, despair associated with joy, fear associated with satisfaction. You were able to tap into your father's mind at an early age and wrapped his depravities around yourself like a warm blanket. You were somehow able to find comfort in the nightmarish landscape of your father's mind eventually aiding him in finding victims. Father and son, donor and recipient, a symbiotic relationship of sorts -- a form of psychic vampirism, all stemming from the most simplistic of desires -- a child wanting to make his father happy. A perversion or distortion of a yet uncultivated mutant power. A sickness conveyed from father to son -- no different than the passing of a genetic trait from one generation to the next."

"Enough!" the Shadow King let loose with a guttural scream. His eyes darted maniacally around the room almost as if he was worried that someone had just overheard what was said. "I'm going to carve the skin off your bones, pluck the eyes from your sockets, and feed your entrails to the rats. I'll pry your mind open, and plant the most hideous nightmares in your head, playing the worst scenarios over and over -- you'll never know what's real. I'll keep you alive, and take you with me like a pet wherever I go. I'll make the pain last forever, you'll beg me to kill you -- but I won't," the Shadow King screamed in strangled and bloodthirsty tones, spewing saliva in all directions.

Three of the Shadow King's slaves were within striking distance and sluggishly raised crude weapons.

Apocalypse casually raised single arm -- a blinding spear of light shot from his hand and cut through his attackers. He sustained the discharge of energy just long enough to kill every person in the room save for the Shadow King.

The Shadow King's vision was momentarily impaired by the dazzling release of searing energy. He lowered his forearm slowly, which he had used in an attempt to shield his eyes. The smell of cooked meat reached his nostrils and he could barely make out the smoldering remains of his cattle.

His vision cleared completely and standing where a man had been a few seconds ago was the mutant overlord -- "Apocalypse," the Shadow King hissed, his eyes suddenly taking on a hunted look.

"Yes. I am surprised you recognize me. You've never seen fit to cross my path. An immortal mutant with my power -- my resources. What a tempting prize I'd make to someone with your designs -- and your great power. Yet you've never attempted to control me, how odd." A mixture of sarcasm and disdain was clearly discernable in Apocalypse's tone.

The Shadow King crossed his arms and took a defiant stance. "I have no need of you. You do my bidding with no encouragement from me." The Shadow King inched closer, appearing unconcerned about who he was facing. "But since we have now crossed paths, perhaps I should take your suggestion and subjugate you to my will."

The Shadow King had taken a steadying breath and cursed himself for his outward display of uncertainty. His own acknowledgement of fear had only infuriated him further. But if there were one being on the planet that he feared, it was Apocalypse. He had no idea why Apocalypse was here, and additional doubt assaulted his mind and his features as Apocalypse's unapproachable eyes locked onto his own.

"You sincerely believe that a clumsy show of bravado can deceive me -- that I do not recognize you for the mewling coward that you truly are? Your eyes cannot hide the veil of fear that I've seen in those who have heard just a whisper of my name -- and those who have come to know me personally," something in Apocalypse's cold gaze turned immediately dangerous, "as you shall."

The Shadow King knew the time for talk was over and self-preservation drove him to abruptly attack. He extended a dark tendril of his power and sent it knifing into Apocalypse's mind. Expecting some kind of defense, Farouk's onslaught was brutal, employing an enormous amount of psionic energy in one focused assault. Only the most powerful of telepaths would be able to protect themselves against such an incursion. His attack would not only penetrate most any telepathic shield, but also shatter it so completely that it was doubtful the recipient of such an attack would ever be able to fabricate one again. But he encountered no shield -- there wasn't any protection from his attack at all. Instead he found that he had free reign of Apocalypse's mind.

Suspecting a trap, the Shadow King immediately attempted to wrest control of the body from its owner. Strangely enough, he found that he could not influence Apocalypse's mind at all -- because he was unable to locate it. He then tried to influence the brain, the autonomic nervous system, in an attempt to physically control the body. He tried to stop Apocalypse from breathing, stop his heart, but again all his efforts failed.

Feeling decidedly uneasy, he decided to withdraw his presence from Apocalypse's mind but quickly found out he was unable to do so. A wave of panic washed over him so unexpectedly he could barely think about his next course of action -- and felt the bile rise up his throat in his physical body. Having been in complete control of others for so long, his own reaction was completely unfamiliar and turned his fear into a panic driven rage.

If he could not escape, he would wreak havoc and tear this mind apart. He would take any childhood fear or trauma, the smallest of insecurities and inflate them to crippling proportions. He would magnify any anxiety, feed any dread -- until there was nothing else but paralyzing terror. Fear was the vital key -- his key to controlling any person, human or mutant. He could enter any mind and find that weakness, that ruling focal point of fear like a bloodhound. He would sniff it out and then go to it unerringly. It was like a sweet smelling fragrance to him. But for the very first time, after violating literally thousands of minds -- here in Apocalypse's mind, he could not detect even the slightest scent of fear, nothing at all.

He paused, concentrating on bringing all his formidable powers to bear. He would just take a more basic, yet more time-consuming approach by examining individual memories. Through those memories, especially the early ones that served as a foundation on which every individual's personality was built, it would be possible to find something to use. He would focus on something particularly disturbing, and use that to turn it into something all consuming. He would nurture even the smallest instability and eventually the foundation would crumble and fall, and with it, Apocalypse.

Even the most powerful telepaths needed to create familiar frames of reference to navigate through the infinitely complex maze that was the human mind. When the Shadow King entered any mind, a lifetime of memories appeared to him as myriad of open doors. The size of the door tended to indicate the importance of the memory while the amount of light or its absence spoke to the type -- pleasant or unpleasant. Because Apocalypse was so long lived, the landscape of his mind was that much more vast and contained an incredible storehouse memories.

He selected the nearest doorway, and moved closer but was startled by the size of the entrance. It was more like a huge portal than any doorway and dazzling light streamed from the opening. He looked at some of the neighboring portals and the same glaring light was coming from all of them. He was again struck at how different this mind was and at some fundamental level that he was unable grasp. Inhuman, unnatural, his own thoughts strange or inadequate even to himself when trying to describe what he was seeing here. Perhaps it was Apocalypse's immortality that forced -- or maybe required that it develop in a different way.

He caught glimpses of different times and places...different lives. All he had to do was simply step through one of the doorways and he would become instantly immersed in that memory -- that world. He hesitated, for the first time fearful about entering deeper into another mind. Disregarding his instincts, he forcefully stepped through the entrance, anger once again fueling his actions.

He immediately recognized the smell of the Egyptian desert, felt the merciless sun scorch his skin. His senses were instantly stunned by the richness of the memory, incredibly vivid and deeply intense -- overwhelmingly real. His forays into other minds, other memories were pale by comparison, bland, lacking any substance. Here he was suddenly having trouble separating what were Apocalypse's memories from his own.

He felt his own muscles ache, screaming for a moment of inactivity, but that was not allowed. There was nothing but endless toil for his masters. He hesitated for just a moment trying to catch his breath, and immediately felt the sharp bite of a whip tear at his back. The potency of the pain brought him back to himself, compelling him to withdraw immediately. He threw himself back out the way he came.

He was deeply shaken by the experience, and his lack of control. He was one of the most powerful and experienced telepaths in existence and should have been able to manipulate and influence anything he encountered. What happened -- shouldn't have been possible. Yet a simple memory had almost completely overwhelmed him. He had been ready to capitulate to his captors just to avoid the pain. He came to the terrifying realization that he had come so close to losing his identity in that memory, and could have been trapped there forever.

He knew that he was traversing through new territory and must proceed with extreme caution. Perhaps this was an elaborate trap by Apocalypse. He decided to peer through a few more of the portals -- before entering into any of them.

The Shadow King stopped at the threshold of another portal, recognizing Apocalypse immediately even though he looked entirely human. He was bound and gagged and had obviously been beaten for some time. Two horses, one attached to each of his legs, were keeping them firmly spread apart as a sharpened stake was gradually forced into his body. The end of the stake was well oiled and care was taken that the stake not be too sharp, else the victim might die too rapidly from shock.

The Shadow King was very familiar with the art of impaling. Normally the stake was inserted into the body through the buttocks and was often forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. However, there were many instances where victims were impaled through other body orifices or through the abdomen or chest.

Apocalypse's body convulsed once and then again as he coughed up a thick glob of blood. He turned his head to his tormentors, and spit at them. They had done their job well. He was still alive and could be punished further. The Shadow King decided to move on.

He looked into another doorway, again recognizing Apocalypse in another strange guise. He was being questioned...tortured by some member or agency of the Church. He could feel Apocalypse's disgust toward the inquisitor. He refused to answer any of his questions and would not utter a sound despite the inquisitor's skilled and persuasive attempts. Driven out of his mind by anger, the inquisitor ordered that, dressed in a short tunic, the prisoner be put first in a bath of hot water, then of cold. He was pelted with small stones bruising his skin making it even more sensitive to pain. Then, with a large rock tied to his feet, he was raised up again, kept there for an hour, and dropped again, and his shins were poked with reeds as sharp as swords. Again and again he was hauled up until, on the twentieth elevation, the rope broke and he fell from a great height with the stone still tied to his feet. His body with most of the bones shattered on impact with the ground. The Shadow king watched as the inquisitor's sniveling servant took the body and disposed of it in a cesspool.

Looking through several more doorways it was more of the same. The list of tortures endured by Apocalypse read like the Devil's handbook for hell: building nails driven into the head, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs, scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or to wild animals, and burning alive. Apocalypse for some inexplicable reason, subjected himself to the most unbelievable tortures, brutal conditions, sustaining incredible physical and mental torment.

Apocalypse stepped out from one of the portals, gigantic, a personification of power. "Strength of will is a byproduct of tribulations, and for that strength of will to be insurmountable, it must be pursued with a relentless and endless fervor. It can never be granted, it must always be earned." Apocalypse spoke with a voice as deep as the deepest ocean trench.

The Shadow King suddenly felt puny and that he would be crushed like a small insect, insignificant and unnoticed.

"My beliefs are often times misconstrued or misunderstood. But being understood holds little significance to me. There are differences between humans and mutants, but they are almost meaningless. Mutants for all intents and purposes simply possess an additional tool. Depending on the user, that tool can either be an advantage or sometimes a damaging crutch. It is strength of mind, resolve, fortitude, -- individual willpower that will determine which. It is that strength of will, and only that, which will make all things possible."

The Shadow King understood -- comprehending, at least in theory at what Apocalypse had done. Apocalypse had subjected himself to a never-ending series of tests, sustained incredibly over thousands of years. These merciless trials were chosen to test the upward limits and beyond of pain and endurance -- both Apocalypse's physical and mental stamina. From what the Shadow King had seen, Apocalypse had no limit. The result was a being of such self-control and abstemiousness; it was too difficult to conceive. A mind formed over millennia from a crucible of his own making, impossible to sway, indomitable.

All empires eventually fell, growing soft, decadent. The leaders subject to the same foibles...an immortal even more prone to these pitfalls. Apocalypse it seemed had found a way -- a tortuous way to avoid this. The Shadow King realized that Apocalypse's self-image was not borne out of arrogance or conceit, but out of reality. Tested over and over again, never growing complacent, unswerving in his brutally stringent self-imposed doctrine -- Apocalypse truly in every way was what he proclaimed to be. He was the most powerful of their kind. Compared to this -- this majesty, he was nothing but a speck, an inconsequential bug. His powers were a match flame compared to the heart of a star.

If there was ever any fear in this mind it was consumed, exorcised long ago in a forge of burning pain. What use would Apocalypse ever have for a telepathic shield? Access to his mind meant nothing. He could see that to influence Apocalypse telepathically in any way would be like pushing against the ground and expecting to be able to move the Earth from its orbit.

The Shadow King had already begun to think incredibly, in a subservient manner. He had to remove himself from Apocalypse's mind at all costs. Additionally, whatever Apocalypse had planned obviously spanned centuries, possibly millennia. That plan required him to hold steadfastly to a certain course and Apocalypse had taken great pains, literally, to ensure that he would not or could not deviate because of personal weakness. And that plan involved him.

He focused on amassing every erg of psionic energy to break free from Apocalypse. He felt it build and then just as quickly dissipate. He saw -- or was allowed to see Apocalypse take control of the psionic energy and weave it into a -- leash -- a leash that was already there and had just been reinforced. The Shadow King realized that he had been held here all along -- held in place by his own psionic energy. Apocalypse had somehow harnessed the energy and used it against him.

Hysterical, he began to struggle like a trapped animal. He clawed at the tether in an attempt to extricate himself. Even though in a mad frenzy, he saw Apocalypse grin menacingly and then watched as he let go of his chain. He thought he heard the echo of deafening laughter in his ears as he returned to his physical body and the physical world.

He felt heavy hands on his shoulders, and moaned as fingers sunk deeply and painfully into his muscles -- crushing. The Shadow King's heart stopped and lodged in his throat as he starred into Apocalypse's eyes that were just a few scant inches from his own. Too late -- between the moments that they were on the psychic plane, Apocalypse had crossed the distance that separated them and now had him in an inescapable grasp.

A bright flash of light, a brief moment of disorientation -- the Shadow King was momentarily dazed but knew he was in a different location. He opened his eyes and found himself in a vast room surrounded by a variety of unrecognizable technology.

"You are far from civilization -- if you considered where you were to be civilization. You are deep in the Himalayas, in one of my holding facilities," Apocalypse's cold voice informed him.

The Shadow King looked directly about him and noticed that he was being held firmly in place, but no chains bound him. Strange spheres of energy were somehow acting in concert and kept him from moving. He could only move marginally and suddenly felt extremely weak, almost faint.

"You've probably begun to notice that my machine is draining you of your power though you should feel no shame. This very same machine once held a god."(1)

"Please," the Shadow King implored. "Do not kill me. I will do anything you ask."

Apocalypse made a sound that was probably the equivalent of a sigh for anybody else. "It is always the same. Time and time again those who have foolishly chosen to go against me first bluster, then realize that I cannot be beaten. Begging and pleading soon follow. My challenges are few and far between." Apocalypse shook his head. "I will not kill you...yet. This particular machine has many functions. It can also be used for conditioning."

"There is no need for -- conditioning," the Shadow King's voice shook, sounding small and terrified. "Anything you wish is yours, anything!" He was deathly afraid of what was to come.

Apocalypse ignored the Shadow King's pleas. "Some, yourself included will see this as simple torture -- but it is not. For too long you've been in control of others. Consider this a test, which will be used to convince you...a powerful reminder of who truly is in control. The thought of independence will never again enter your mind. My brilliance, my radiance will shed light into every corner of your corrupted soul." Apocalypse smiled broadly. "Together we will see what that light shows."

"Please, just tell me your plans and I will show you -- prove to you how I can help you." the Shadow King's voice was now high pitched, almost like a squealing child.

"My plans involve an interplay of circumstances beyond your paltry comprehension. I cannot be placated and to plead or struggle further is useless. Freedom -- your freedom is a wistful illusion and a goal that you will never attain. Acceptance of your situation is the only measure of freedom that you will ever have again."

Apocalypse walked over and stood behind a small pedestal. "You may in time come to realize that you owe me a great debt of gratitude. You have immersed yourself for much too long in your weakness, the murky depths of depravity. You've lost all perspective to see how debilitated you've become. I have brought you out of the shadows," Apocalypse laughed at his small play on words. "Out of the darkness, and into the light -- my light."

Apocalypse passed his hand over an instrument panel. A snarl of agony erupted from the Shadow King's mouth. Two hours from now, he would stop screaming but only after both his vocal cords had ruptured. The Shadow King's inability to make a sound was irrelevant -- the pain was inescapable. The machine would not let him sleep or rest but would keep him alive indefinitely, even without food or water. If he grew tired, it would simply compensate by returning some of the energy it had appropriated -- always just enough to keep him fully conscious and completely aware of what was being done to him.

He watched indifferently as Ahmal Farouk twisted and contorted while still being held firmly in place. The duration and volume level of his squall surprised Apocalypse. That was probably the most remarkable impression that this reputedly fearsome mutant had made on him. Although, as blood began to run from the Shadow King's nose and seep from his eye sockets, a mild curiosity had also arisen in Apocalypse's mind.

"Can you feed off your own pain and misery and sustain yourself, just as you've sustained yourself by siphoning off power from others?" Apocalypse asked aloud. "I suppose it would be no different than trying to consume one's own flesh and obtain nourishment."

Apocalypse pondered that question and wondered if he'd have the answer when he returned in ten days.

to be continued >>

[1]X-Factor #50 BU

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