|Webs of Deceit
Author: AnimeMaster24 PM
After recruiting X-23, the X-Men go to New York to investigate Magneto's activities. The infamous Kingpin wants Magneto's knowledge of Project Rebirth, but can the heroes protect X-23 when HYDRA gets involved too? X-Men: Evolution and Spider-Man CrossoverRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - X23 & Wolverine/Logan - Chapters: 33 - Words: 312,525 - Reviews: 113 - Favs: 53 - Follows: 39 - Updated: 05-19-12 - Published: 02-10-10 - id: 5735334
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 32: Don't Touch that Dial!
Disclaimer: I do not own any Marvel characters or logos. This story is written solely for fun, not profit.
Professor Xavier had been actively searching through police reports for several hours in an attempt to find something relevant to his students' disappearances, but so far he hadn't turned up anything. Even worse was that Wolverine, Colossus, and Beast had turned up empty handed after several hours of combing the woods and asking questions around town. So far things were not going well today, and the more time he spent worrying over the safety of his young charges, the worse he felt about it.
Even though Storm was with them, the bald telepath had times where he still thought of her as his own student. She had been one of his first, but he still remembered that fateful day in Africa when he encountered her as a child.
Back when he still had the use of his legs, Xavier found a situation where he saw a telepath using his powers for evil. The mutant in question had forced the young Ororo to work under him, and kept the loyalty of his followers by ruling through fear.
The Professor remembered his mental battle with the man who called himself the Shadow King as a trial he had undergone to free the unfortunate people trapped in his servitude. Although this happened decades ago, Charles still remembered the details vividly. Remnants of this event still lingered, as he sometimes thought of Storm as the child he had rescued all those years ago, and the name of the Shadow King still brought fear into her eyes to this very day.
Realizing that he had been distracted from his work, the handicapped man prepared to resume it, only to be interrupted by the sound of his office door creaking open. Professor Xavier looked up to see what was going on, only to catch sight of Gambit. The explosive mutant seemed rather amused by something, although what had yet to be specified.
The institute's headmaster set down his pen and looked up. "May I help you, Mr. Lebeau?"
"I was doin' ground patrol tonight to make sure we didn't get no more unwanted visitors, and what should I find but this dude sneakin' round the premises. Says he wanted to talk to you. Didn't recognize him, though I figured you might." Gambit added with a craft smile.
Remy twirled his metal staff between his fingers like an oversized baton before using the end to push open the door, revealing the person he had caught during his rounds. The new visitor was roughly as tall as Nightcrawler, and slightly more muscular. He had a dark features, with brown hair running down his neck, and a tiny triangular goatee below his mouth. He also wore a dark red collar shirt with a pen in the side pocket, and a pair of blue cargo pants.
The professor acknowledged him with a look of mild surprise. ""Forge… I don't mean to condemn your choices, but might I suggest you visit at an earlier hour. It is past curfew right now, and the students are currently in bed."
Gambit guessed that they were acquainted and put away his staff, retracting the rods before tucking the weapon back into his coat. "So professor, I'm guessing you know this guy?"
"Indeed I do… He's a friend of Kurt's whose inventions tend to produce very interesting affects on those involved." The telepath closed his eyes for a second as he remembered all of the trouble they encountered during the genius's last visit to the institute. "Do not think we are not happy to see you, but in any case, perhaps you could enlighten us as to why you came."
Forge inched forward a few steps before sitting down on the sofa closest to the window. "I know it's been a while, and I'm sorry for intruding so late at night. Believe it or not, one of my experiments led me here by accident, and I sort of stumbled onto the grounds without knowing." He paused and pointed at the Cajun. "That is, until this dude jumped me."
"I was just doing my job, kid." The explosive mutant commented with a shrug.
The technical genius let out a humorous laugh in response to this last part. "Interesting choice of words. Although I don't look it, I'm probably old enough to be your dad."
"Care to explain what you mean by that?" Gambit cocked an eyebrow with renewed interest, despite having looked positively bored only seconds earlier.
"I was working on an invention years ago and accidentally zapped myself into some kind of ghostly pocket dimension. Got trapped there back in 1968 and I didn't age a day during that time. Only managed to find my way out a couple of years ago when the X-Men stumbled onto my lab and played with the equipment."
"You gotta be kidding me." The Cajun replied with a slightly skeptical note. He glanced at the professor for an answer, and was slightly surprised when the bald man nodded in agreement.
"However hard it may be to believe, our guest speaks the truth." Xavier complied with a raised eyebrow, his expression becoming much more serious only moments later. "Now then, perhaps we should return to the present situation."
Forge nodded compliantly. "Right… Anyway, I was doing some experiments in my lab earlier tonight involving some of my older work from before that mess happened in the 60s."
The professor inclined his head slightly. "You mean your research on inter-dimensional travel?"
"Exactly!" the inventor replied. "I was trying to see if it would be possible to duplicate that experiment without worrying about the negative side affects from before, but while preparing some of my instruments, one of them picked up some kind of dimensional anomaly within the immediate vicinity."
The telepath seemed to understand. "Would I be correct to assume that your instruments led you onto the institute's grounds while searching for this energy signature?"
"I know it sounds kinda crazy, but that's pretty much what happened." Forge agreed with an apologetic look. "Normally I wouldn't have walked out the middle of the night like this, but the ions my machines detected were extremely powerful… No lie, the levels were far beyond anything I've ever detected before."
Gambit folded his arms and leaned against the wall. "What exactly are you talking about, now?"
The visitor ignored him and continued to speak to the professor. "The point is that this reading was way off the charts! A disturbance of this level doesn't typically occur within nature. It was similar to the output of my own inventions, but much more powerful, almost like someone had willingly ripped a hole in the space-time continuum."
Professor Xavier froze for a moment as he imagined the theoretical ramifications of such a feat, his thoughts briefly returning to the mysterious disappearance of his charges earlier that day. He took in a long breath before voicing his concerns. "Forgive me for asking if you have already stated this, but is it possible that these so-called anomalies could be used to transport human beings?"
"Of course! It's actually pretty similar to some of the stuff I came up with." He answered.
"Tell me one more thing." The institute's headmaster rolled his chair out from behind his desk before position it in front of the large glass window overlooking the grounds. He glanced out at the silhouette of the forest and exhaled deeply. "The signal you detected on these grounds… Could it be coming from directly within the forest?"
His guest followed the telepath's gaze and nodded quickly. "That's actually the direction it was leading me in. I suppose it's possible the anomaly could have been opened in the…"
"Just wait a minute!" Gambit spoke up, looking as if he had figured out where the conversation was going. "Are you saying that this has something to do with the students just up and vanishing while they were playing in the woods?"
"If what he says is true, I'm beginning to think there may be a connection."
Forge stood up with a look of surprise. "Wait! You're saying that people just disappeared?"
"Kurt and several others were conducting a training exercise in the forest earlier, but the group never returned to the institute. The teams searching for them discovered evidence of struggle, but no clues as to where the missing students could have been found." The psychic grimaced at the thought, small signs of worry lingering on his calm face.
"I see…" the techno-genius replied, his own smile wavering at the thought. It was true that he hadn't spent much time with the X-Men, but they were the only friends he had left.
Upon returning to Bayville for the first time in years, Forge had found himself in a world that had changed so much, and everyone he cared about was no longer around. Even so, he still owed Kurt Wagner a debt for getting them out of the pocket dimension the machine had sent them too. Unfortunately, his last attempt to repay his new friend had only resulted in an even bigger disaster when hoards of monsters came through from another dimension and ruined the Bayville High Dance.
"I also agree that there might be a connection between the anomaly and the disappearance of the students." Forge stated, causing the other two mutants to turn their attention to him. "With your permission, I would like to inspect the grounds for myself."
Gambit flipped the deck of cards from one hand to the other, gently tucking the Queen of Hearts in the back before addressing their guest. "Sounds like you're saying you can fix this mess. That's a pretty big claim, especially since the rest of us haven't been able to do squat."
"He does raise a valid point." The telepath rationalized with solemn expression. "Of course we welcome any help you can provide, but perhaps you can explain your reasons for wanting to look into this situation. Is it merely a question of scientific research, or can you really help us?"
Forge walked over to the crippled mutant. "My theory is that someone might've used some sort of inter-dimensional technology to infiltrate the institute and kidnap your students."
The explosive mutant pocketed his playing cards and stood up a little straighter. "Didn't we already go over this stuff already?"
"I don't know for sure, but since the anomaly left behind such a song energy signature, there might be a way for me to reverse the signal." The science genius answered. "If I can apply these same settings to my dimensional apparatus back at the lab, there's a chance we can create a portal leading to wherever the others were taken."
"This is assuming you're actually right." Gambit added with a carefree shrug.
Professor Xavier nodded with a thoughtful expression, gently folding his hands in front of his face. He eyed the visitor pensively before giving his answer. "Very well, then… I have no reason to doubt you." He began, looking slightly less certain than his words implied. He straightened up and relaxed his shoulders. "I will grant you access to our facilities and anything you need, assuming you are willing to address this crisis to the best of your abilities."
"I still owe you guys from the last time." Forge took the professor's outstretched hand, an understanding passing between them. "Don't worry… I'll do whatever I can to help!"
"Ugh… What happened?" Kitty Pryde blinked twice as the light subsided, a small gasp escaping her mouth once she began to take in their surroundings.
Glancing at the environment, it didn't look as though she were still in the same place, much less the same world as before. The arena, audience, and the giant monitors had been replaced by a dense overgrowth of trees and shrubs. After taking a deep breath and steeling her nerves, she stepped into the overgrowth only to be slapped in the face by a low-hanging tree branch. With a tiny groan, she stumbled backwards into a much softer object, making her aware that she was no longer alone.
She screamed in surprise before elbowing whoever was behind her in the gut, although a familiar groan told her that she had made the wrong decision. The girl spun around quickly only to lock eyes with a certain blue-skinned mutant. She could tell by the look in his deep yellow eyes that Nightcrawler was just as terrified and confused as she was, although he continued to massage his stomach with a painful wince.
"Oops… You really shouldn't sneak up on me like that." She remarked with a frown.
"Sorry, but I didn't mean to scare you." Kurt raised his three-fingered hands defensively before grasping the spot where she had struck. He did his best to ignore the pain and took another glance around the clearing. "So, do you have any clue where on Earth we are?"
The intangible mutant let out a weary sigh. "From the look of those nasty creatures from before I'm not even sure we were on Earth to begin with."
"Something tells me that you might be right…" Nightcrawler looked around pensively at the surrounding forest, his frown deepening into a look of sorrow. "Who is this Mojo dude, and what does he possibly have against mutants?"
"Dunno, but it feels a bit like those gladiator matches we read about in history class."
The blue-skinned hero stirred slightly as if someone had slapped him in the face. "What!"
"You remember how they used to force people to fight back in Rome just to entertain the crowds. It almost feels like that monster is forcing us to do the same thing in these games!"
"I really should pay more attention in school." Her friend ran a gloved hand through his hair before letting out a relieved sigh. "I doubt he'll be able to force us to fight each other, so in the meantime we should just focus on surviving until someone can rescue us."
Kitty forced a smile, despite the fact that she was still worried, a sense of inner strength returned to her eyes. "Well, you certainly know how to look on the bright side. We can't just sit around and do nothing while that freak toys with our friends!"
He frowned again. "This Mojo has the power to move us around like pieces on a board. If he can do that much, who knows how powerful he really is!"
"I say we take this creep down just like we did to tons of other bad guys!" she added.
"Unfortunately, we have no idea how to get out of here. Call it a hunch, but I also have a strange feeling that he's watching our every move as we speak!"
No sooner had he said this that the ground began shaking violently, causing both mutants to stand with their backs pressed against each other in an attempt to prevent themselves from being caught off guard. Wolverine had taught them this method during team building exercises at the institute, and it seemed appropriate for this particular situation. They looked around warily for the source of the disturbance, only to see the clouds above their heads parted to reveal the face of their captor leering down at them. The larger than life image looked like it was being projected into the sky, although they couldn't see where it was coming from.
"How very observant you are, my little blue friend!" Mojo screamed wildly, his large red eyes bulging with a deep-seated madness. "I must admit, it's so much more fun when the subjects remain blissfully unaware of my influence, but you humans seem much smarter than I was originally led to believe!"
"You jerk! So you were listening to us!" Kitty called back, her voice wavering slightly at the thought of being observed everywhere they went.
Their enemy let out a deep series of obnoxious chuckles before speaking again. "Well it wouldn't be fun if the rest of us weren't able to see everything that was going on, now would it?" he wafted his hand in front of his mouth and let out a mocking yawn. "In any case, this little moment of friendship is killing the ratings… It's a real snooze!"
Kurt saw his partner still looked shaken by the tremor and quickly swallowed his own fear. "We won't fight just because you and your fans want entertainment!"
"Why don't you crawl back under whatever rock you came out from and leave us alone? Let us out of here now, creepazoid!" she glared angrily at the projection of his hideous face.
"Blah blah blah… Quit wasting my time with this crap!" Mojo's expression dropped for a second, but he composed himself with a sinister look of satisfaction. "You two brats seem to forget that in this place, I make the rules! Just because you and your annoying teammates refuse to tear each other apart for the amusement of the masses, doesn't mean I haven't already prepared for such miserably dull behavior!"
Nightcrawler wracked his brain for a moment before making the connection between the enemy's words and recent events. "Nothing you do will change anything?"
"Who said anything about me getting involved in this nasty little spat? A humble game master such as myself is far removed from getting involved with lowly subjects such as yourselves! The man in charge simply sets up the board and plays with the pieces to his heart's content until they break or fail to entertain the masses!"
Shadowcat instinctively stepped back with fearful look. "Just what are you trying to say now?"
Their host laughed again, each unruly note bursting from everywhere at once. After a few more seconds, the chaotic creature ceased his chortling and smiled in a way that sent chills down their spines. "Oh, don't worry my pretty little commodities, you're about to find out the hard way! I'll leave you with these happy thoughts… What a pity that we won't be seeing each other again!"
The two X-Men exchanged glanced at each other, neither looking certain of what to think about the ominous warning they had just received. It had been a pretty rough day being abducted, forced into some kind of whacked out gladiator style game show, and then threatened by a talking blob just for the sake of entertaining an audience of monsters. Even though the team of mutants had come across their share of craziness, this was by far the most bizarre thing that had ever happened to them. Kurt could tell that his partner was thinking the same thing.
After one or two worried glances, the blue-skinned teleporter tried to comfort her. "This guy's just threatening us! It's not like everyone we've ever fought didn't do the same thing."
Shadowcat relaxed her shoulders and finally allowed herself to breath for the first time in the last few minutes. She gently ran a hand through her hair before returning his sentiments. "You're right… That Apocalypse guy was like a million times scarier than this talking slug!"
"That's the spirit, Kitty! When you really think about it, we've survived worse!" Kurt batted her a thumbs up forced and forced an awkward smile, revealing his animalistic canine teeth.
"Yeah, we won't get anywhere by standing around panicking about it… Let's see if we can't find a way out of this place."
They took the moment to relax and gather their nerves, although this time she was the first one to recover. Kitty Pryde exhaled deeply and stepped towards the surrounding brush, trying her best to appear confident as she went. Kurt nodded in agreement and followed after her, both mutants proceeding with caution as they walked straight into the overgrowth. In retrospect it was a bad idea just to walk into the unknown without any real plans, but neither of them had come up with anything better.
Now trapped deep in an unfamiliar forest, they had no idea where they were or what kind of tricks their host had planned. Kurt noticed immediately that there were no sign of animals or anything else in the woods besides plant life, making him wonder for a moment if they were trapped in some kind of enclosure specifically designed for Mojo's gladiator matches. The idea did cross his mind several times, although he thought it better not to say anything to his partner in case she hadn't already thought of it.
Several more minutes passed quietly before someone finally broke the silence. "Hey Kurt… You think that the others are doing okay?"
The demon-looking mutant let out a snort of laughter. "You kidding? Storm controls the weather, Jubilee makes things blow up, and Logan's clone is even scarier than he is. I'm sure the others will be all right." He groaned wearily at the next thought before voicing it out loud. "Personally I'm more worried about the two of us."
"I noticed you didn't mention Bobby on that list." Kitty added with a tiny smirk.
Nightcrawler sighed. "Scott told me that Iceman almost ruined their last mission in New York several times… I don't think we need to go there."
She stifled the urge to roll her eyes as they continued through the woods. "You got that right."
Kurt opened his mouth to speak again, but their conversation was cut short by a bright flash of light followed by a loud snapping noise. He realized that the same type of anomaly had engulfed them in the arena before they woke up in the forest, and quickly assumed that the same thing was about to happen again. Not wanting to fall into another one of Mojo's traps, he seized his partner by the wrist and pulled her away from the source of the flash.
"Whoa, what're you doing?" Shadowcat let out a frightened squeal as he jumped like a monkey and wrapped his arms around her.
Focusing his powers, he forcibly teleported them both into a nearby tree. Nightcrawler used his tale to seize one of the nearby branches to steady himself, his feet barely balancing on the bark of the tree. Kitty almost slipped off of the limb, but her teammate placed a hand in front of her to prevent them from falling. Once both X-Men were steadily perched, the pair looked down at the place where they had been standing moments before, only to catch sight of another figure.
The intangible girl gasped as she caught sight of teenage boy with unruly, shoulder-length brown hair and thick arched eyebrows. He was clothed in a black jumpsuit with silver protective padding near the front and metallic shoulder pads, a clear bowl-like helmet shielding the top of his head and half of his face. Although his bare hands were exposed, the newcomer's outfit included metallic wrist guards and a pair of boots in a similar color that ran halfway up his legs.
Kurt needed to steady himself again as he came to a sudden realization. "Wait a minute… Is that?" he stammered, glancing over at his partner for an answer.
"Avalanche!" Kitty's eyes widened in shock when she recognized the new arrival as her old boyfriend. Without even giving the situation a second though, she instinctively placed a hand to her mouth and called out to him. "Hey Lance, is that you over there?"
The teenage boy standing on the ground looked up at the X-Men with an intensely focused stare. Upon seeing his face, she realized that they had correctly guessed his identity. Although the male mutant's eyes displayed no sign of immediate recognition, Shadowcat thought of the gesture as a sign of acknowledgement and quickly leapt from the branch in excitement. No sooner had she touched onto the ground did she run forward to greet him up close.
"So, looks like you got pulled into Mojo's crazy game too. So, are the other Brotherhood guys around here too?" Her tone was somber at first, but after several moment of silence, she quickly became curious. "Is there something wrong? I know I gave you the cold shoulder for a while, but this really isn't the time to act like a jerk."
Without warning, Avalanche raised his hand in her direction, causing a large tremor to shake the ground beneath their feet. Kitty was caught off guard by this sudden display of hostility stumbled backwards only to be caught by a Kurt. The blue-skinned teen flashed behind her and teleported them both behind a bush several hundreds of feet away from their attacker. Kitty still looked surprised, although a sharp intake of break quickly brought her back to her senses.
"Did you say something to upset him, or is he always like this around you?" her partner asked.
"Don't know, but he didn't even speak to me… Lance was never the strong silent type. There's gotta be something wrong with him."
Kurt pushed her head down, peeking his own above the brush to make sure the enemy hadn't spotted them yet. "Maybe he's working for that Mojo dude?"
"The Brotherhood have actually been pretty quiet since that mess in South America. I don't know about the others, but Lance wouldn't be involved in something like this."
"Bowl-head just tried to put us both in the ground, and you still don't think he's involved."
She shot her teammate an irritated look. "I know he wouldn't just ignore me, and there's no way Avalanche would just attack someone without having a reason." She clenched her fist before raising her voice again. "There's gotta be something going on here that we're not seeing!"
Kurt realized her mistake of speaking too loudly and slapped a three-fingered hand over her mouth to silence her, but another tremor beneath their feet quickly made it clear they had been discovered. Kitty grabbed him by the wrist and pushed her partner away from the impact as a pair of trees fell, her intangibility powers allowing her to phase through the timber. Another tree fell, but he grabbed onto her and teleported them both to safety a second time.
"What's the deal with you?" Kitty Pryde turned around to face their attacker, her fists clenching angrily. "Why won't you talk to me? What's did that Mojo freak do to you?"
Avalanche seemed to freeze up for a moment at the sound of her voice, although his eyes quickly went blank and he raised his hands to set off another tremor in their direction. Nightcrawler placed a hand on her shoulder and teleported alongside his partner, moving them several yards away. The pair glanced back at the place where they had been standing only moments before only to see a small crater where the ground had caved in, along with an expanding fissure that was heading in their direction.
"Looks like it's time to move it!" Kurt teleported them both away from the split in the ground, buying them a few seconds to think. He looked up only to see that her partner had turned to face their attacker instead of running away. "Hey, what gives? Have you gone completely out of your mind, Kitty?"
"Just let me try and get through to him!" The female mutant called over her shoulder.
"No way, we should run now and worry about saving him later!" he called out worriedly.
When she didn't respond, Nightcrawler reached out to seize her by the arm and get to safety, but his partner had purposely rendered herself intangible. Realizing that she wasn't going to listen, the blue-skinned mutant moved into a defensive position and prepared to act in case he was needed. Although he didn't particularly like where this situation was going, Kurt saw the determination in his teammate's eyes and decided it was best not to waste their precious time with arguing.
Kitty stepped into the clearing where Lance was still searching for them, her expression composed despite the trees falling around her and the shifting Earth beneath her feet. Using her powers made it easier to avoid such obstacles, and she easily moved within striking range of the quake-inducing mutant. Her partner remained a safe distance back from the duo, preparing to intervene if the situation escalated beyond her control.
"I know you don't want to hurt us!" Shadowcat did her best to remain calm in the face of danger.
"Rrrgh!" Avalanche grunted angrily and prepared to send out another tremor, but his arms froze midway, almost as if he were trying to resist the impulse to attack. Caught in the middle of his attack pose, his fingers twitched violently and a series or pained groans issued from his mouth.
The intangible girl noticed this immediately and took a step closer to him. She wrapped her hands around his shoulders and shook him violently as if to jar him from a nap. "What's going on? Is that Mojo guy making you do this to us?" she spoke loudly in an attempt to sound confident, but her expression betrayed signs of distress. "Tell me!"
Lance grit his teeth as if he were in deep pain, emotion returning to his eyes for a second. "Mojo… He's… inside my head… … Can't stop attacking… Must fight…" he choked through labored breaths. "Kitty… Get away from me…"
"That's it Lance, fight it!" she screamed into his face, beating him on the shoulder with her fist.
"I said get away!" he bellowed even louder, displaying a full grasp of the situation.
He shoved her away from him with all the strength he could muster, causing her to stumble back a few steps before tripping on a root protruding from the forest floor. With a cry of pain, she landed in a heap on the ground. Shadowcat looked back up at him only to see that his eyes were completely glossed over again, seeing no sign of his previous sentiment. Her fear returned almost instantly as he prepared to launch another quake, but fortunately for her the attack never came.
A pair of yellow, gloved hands shot out from behind Lance and grabbed him from behind as Kurt sprang down from his position in the trees, teleporting them both a few hundred feet into the air. The sudden assault prevented Avalanche from using his powers, but now they were both falling several hundred feet through the sky. Kitty watched with her mouth open in horror as the two men grappled in mid-air, with Lance wrapping his arms around Kurt as they wrestled and struck each other.
"Try not to hurt him! He's not in control of his actions." She screamed up at her partner while running around frantically in the clearing below.
"That's easy for you to say." The blue-skinned mutant retorted loudly, his yellow eyes bulging as they came closer to the ground. "At least he's not trying to throttle you during free-fall!"
The duo came close to smashing into the ground below, but Nightcrawler teleported again, positioning them near the tree tops. Thinking quickly, he elbowed his attacker in the stomach, causing Avalanche to let him go. Using his newfound leverage, Kurt wrapped his tail around the branch of a nearby tree and to stop himself from hitting the ground. He also grabbed his opponent by the back of his jumpsuit to stop him from colliding with the hard turf below.
"Few… That was a close one." The teleporter used his remaining hand to wipe away the sweat that had collected on his brow, but the man he had saved began lunging at him like a wild animal, causing them to sway back and forth violently.
"Rrrraaaaagh!" Lance let out a bestial growl as he seized a hold of the other man's wrist, trying to wrap his other hand around his savior's neck to strangle him.
"Hey, I just saved your life! Show a little gratitude, will ya?" As they dangled precariously, Kurt spotted a metallic glint coming from an object that seemed to have been planted on his opponent's neck. Due to the position they were in, he noticed the presence of the unfamiliar device and quickly put the puzzle together. "Aha, I think I got it!"
No sooner had he said this that the two of them fell again, bumping into several more branches before finally reaching the ground. Lance rolled as he struck the forest floor to minimize injury while Kurt teleported seconds before he hit the ground, marking the second time he had managed to do so in one day. He reappeared beside Kitty seconds later, a small spin in his step and a sharp pain in his side.
Shadowcat caught him from behind, pushing him into an upright position with a gentle shove of her wrists. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I… Ouch! This really stinks…" Kurt grabbed his side as the sting finally came, randomly guessing that he had broken a rib or two during their violent descent. He immediately regretted not being able to teleport quickly enough, but soon realized that it was the least of their worries.
"Look out!" his partner shouted, pointed unnecessarily as another fissure shot through the ground towards them.
Nightcrawler teleported them both away again, this time using his powers in rapid succession in an attempt to increase the distance between them and their attacker. He wasn't exactly certain where they were going as trees flashed through his field of vision, but heading to a particular place wasn't his intention at the moment. They both needed time to assess the situation without being interrupted by a berserk mutant attack every five seconds.
Once they were about a mile away, the blue-skinned mutant gasped for air and practically fainted in exhaustion. "This isn't my day…" he muttered before collapsing face first into the dirt.
"Just take it easy." Kitty seized him by the arms and dragged him across the ground, pulling him behind a particularly large tree to take cover. She ducked behind the deep foliage and propped her friend into a sitting position so he could rest.
Kurt took a minute to regain his breath and swallowed the lump in his throat. "So, now what do we do? It doesn't look like Avalanche is gonna stop hunting us."
She paused to glance around to make sure there was no one nearby, her eyes scanning the grove eagerly as if she was expecting someone to jump them at any moment. bent over and placed before answering.
"Don't know… Maybe we should find a way to undo Mojo's brainwashing techniques. I can't believe that jerk brainwashed him like that." Kitty suddenly looked angry. "Lance might be a big dummy sometimes, but he would never intentionally try to murder someone!"
Nightcrawler raised his head, moments of their battle replaying in his mind. "Wait… I just remembered something! There was some type of glowing object stuck to his neck while he was trying to kill me!"
She leaned closer with a hopeful expression. "You don't suppose that's what's causing him to act like this, do you? Maybe if we can remove it, we can snap him out of this!"
"That's exactly what I was thinking! All we need to do is get close enough without Avalanche noticing. Then we can sneak attack him, and…"
A loud rumbling noise overrode him mid-sentence, the sheer force of the tremor causing the giant tree behind them to creak violently. The two X-Men covered their heads and crouched down as loose dirt formed into a cloud, but when the dust finally they cleared, they found themselves face-to-face with Avalanche again. The mind-controlled mutant prepared to attack them again, but seemed to hesitate upon noticing Shadowcat's presence.
"Argh!" Lance placed his hands on the side of his head and screamed at the sky as he struggled against the impulse to continue assaulting his targets.
Although her teammate was distracted, Kitty chose to act quickly. "Kurt… Do it now!"
"Right!" Nightcrawler screamed as he launched into action.
He jumped onto their mentally conflicted opponent, teleporting them both several meters into the air again before dropping Lance on the ground. He teleported onto the other man's back, using him as a cushion as they touched down again. Using the pain caused by the impact as a distraction, the blue-skinned mutant grabbed his opponent's wrists and wrenched his arms upward, pinning the unruly teenager to the ground. They both struggled in the undergrowth, Kurt finally managing to force him into submission.
"Hurry up! I can't do this all day!" he called out to his partner for help. "Someone has to take that thing off of his neck!"
"I'm on it." Kitty ran over to his side and quickly set to work.
Acting frantically, she removed the bowl-like helmet from the growling man's head, using her opposite hand to pull down the collar of his costume. Avalanche struggled to rise again, but her partner slammed his lower jaw into the back of their enemy's skull, forcing him back down with a sharp blow to the head. Shadowcat's eyes widened slightly as she found the metallic device on their prisoner's neck. She hesitated for a moment before phasing her hand through the back of his throat, her intangible hand causing sparks to shoot out of the computer chip.
The device smoked before exploding with a tiny pop, the feedback causing Lance to jump up with a loud yelp. His sudden action flung Kurt off his back and into a nearby bush while Kitty scrambled away in a frenzied crawl. The teleporting mutant righted himself with an acrobatic leap before moving to stand beside his teammate. They stood in silence for several moments, quietly watching their former opponent's body for signs of movement.
"You don't think he's… dead? Do you?" Kurt began with a wide-eyed expression.
Kitty ignored the question and slowly approached the injured mutant, her pace quickening when she heard his labored breathing. She stopped within a few feet, her eyes never leaving his beaten form. "Please tell me you're back to your normal, jerky self." She pleaded out loud.
To her intense relief, Avalanche let out a loud groan and shook his head violently. He reached behind his neck, tossing aside the broken remains of the device that had been planted there. "Ugh… Did someone get the number of the steamroller that hit me?"
"Glad to see you're all right." Kitty looked down at him with a kind expression, gently extending her hand for him to grab.
Lance Alvers looked up as though he were seeing her for the very first time before accepting her help. A small flush entering his cheeks when he realized that he was still holding her hand, but she simply chose not to think about it and simply let go. They hadn't really spoken since the Apocalypse incident, and because of that, both mutants seemed reluctant to say anything.
Before either could start a proper conversation, Kurt appeared beside them with a loud crack. "I hate to interrupt the reunion, but maybe we should try and figure out a way out of here."
"I don't recall asking for your opinion, blue-boy." Lance gave him a challenging expression, but quickly succumbed to his wounds. Grabbing his chest, he coughed several times and fell forwards only to be caught by his former love interest. "Sheesh, did you guys have to pulverize me like that?"
"It was all we could do to stop you from doing the same to us." Nightcrawler replied irritably.
Kitty nudged him and shook her head. "This isn't the time!" she replied in a strong tone, causing both boys to fall quiet again as she turned to her partner. "I need you to help me for a moment."
The demon-like mutant helped her carry the injured man to the base of an undamaged tree, gently laying his back against the bark in a careful position. The female of the group dashed back to the clearing and retrieved the discarded helmet before hurrying back over to the others. Once they were settled, Lance placed a hand on his knee and propped his bruised elbow against the tree trunk, his expression bitter and upset.
"You really oughta sit down and rest awhile." She bent over him for a moment, calmly inspecting his wounds with a careful eye before frowning apologetically. "Sorry we were so rough back there, but it's like Kurt said; we were trying to stop you."
Lance grit his teeth as if he were about to yell, but making eye contact with the intangible girl greatly hampered his temper. "Don't worry about it… I probably would have done the same if I were in you guys' shoes." He gave her a tough smile. "I mean fighting someone like me must've been really rough on you guys."
"Yeah, it makes the battle with Apocalypse look like a walk in the park." The blue-skinned man commented from over his partner's shoulder.
Kitty noticed the irritation growing on Lance's face and quickly intervened. "We're still pretty sorry that it had to come to this though."
"Just quit that apologizing stuff… You know I don't wanna hear it!" The Earth-shaking mutant let out a sigh, his eyes focusing into an angry glare as they shifted towards sky. "The guy I got a gripe with is that drooling pile of crap that kidnapped me and my friends and brought us to this whacked out dimension."
"Are you saying you remember everything that happened since you arrived?" she exclaimed loudly.
Kurt's eyes widened in shock. "Is the rest of the Brotherhood here too?"
Avalanche groaned in pain, gently resting his right hand on the bruised side of his face. "We were just sitting home minding our own business when some crazy lady with six arms jumped out and began attacking us. I don't remember much after that, but then we woke up in this place being held hostage by an ugly blob with arms."
"So, you're saying that Mojo captured you guys too? Did he use those mind control things to force into his crazy games?" Kitty pressed him for answers, looking deeply concerned.
"Didn't get his name, but the freak said he brought us to this world to be a part of his newest show." Lance scratched his head and spit on the ground near Nightcrawler's feet. "Anyway, Toad was curious, Blob was pissed about being labeled, Pietro was terrified of the dude, and Wanda was just about ready to explode."
The blue-skinned mutant leaned in expectantly. "Yeah, then what happened?"
"Not really sure… The freaky lady started putting those mind control thingies on our necks. All of a sudden I couldn't control the way my body moved, almost like someone had turned us all into a load of zombies." He paused for a minute before looking back up at the X-Men. "Did they do that to you two?"
Shadowcat shook her head. "Nah, but Mojo's people kidnapped a bunch of us from the institute just like they did to you guys."
Kurt placed his hands behind his head and leaned back with a frown. "Not to mention that he also forced us into these glorified gladiator fights. When we refused, he sent us to this place and sent you after us."
"Great, so all the X-Men are here?" Lance deduced with a less-then-enthusiastic expression.
"Nope, just a few of us." Kitty corrected with a frown, her eyes going downcast. "We don't know where the others are right now, but I have a feeling that Mojo's not planning on sending them home."
Her former boyfriend noticed the anguish behind her strong exterior and stood back up. Doing his best to hide his signs of pain, Lance hesitated for a moment before gently placing a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry, I'll help you guys out!"
"What about your friends? We could end up fighting them… Doesn't that bother you?"
"Ever been to their house on a bad night? They do enough fighting in their free time." Kurt added with a knowing expression, having see the chaos for himself on more than one occasion.
The quake-inducing mutant opened his mouth to retort, but found himself unable. "Yeah, guess I can't argue there." He commented with a grudging respect. "Either way, since none of know our way around this dump, I figured we might as well look for our friends together."
Shadowcat simply nodded amiably. "Yeah, that's probably the best we can do for now."
"I was just wondering… Who else from that school of yours got dragged here, anyway?"
Kurt thought quickly. "Well, Storm and Iceman were caught around the same time as us, because we were out in the woods performing a training exercise together. They didn't seem all that picky about who was kidnapped."
"I should have guessed that Bobby would've gotten caught. That kid's always asking for trouble." Lance responded with an irritated note as he remembered the boy's bone-brained idea to bring the Blackbird out for a nighttime joyride. "So, anyone else?"
"Other than us, there was a new girl who has the same powers as Wolverine." Kitty wracked her mind for a second. "They also grabbed…"
"Jubilee!" Nightcrawler suddenly burst out loudly.
Kitty nodded in agreement. "Yup, and it was only her first day back at the institute. Must really stink to have to deal something this awful after just coming back to the mansion." She looked back at the boys only to realize that their gazes were focused towards the horizon rather than on her.
"That's not what I meant… Look over there!" Kurt pointed at a mountain in the distance where several multi-colored sparks were shooting up into the sky.
Lance Alvers placed a hand to his forehead to get a better view. "Yeah, those flashes are definitely her mutant powers?" he commented, having witnessed a similar flashy display the night the younger kids stole the X-Jet.
The two boys started running towards the source, but Kitty was less eager. "Wait, you guys! It could be a trap!" she warned loudly.
"Yeah, or maybe the others are nearby. I say it's at least worth a look." Kurt reasoned.
The other man flung a thumb over his shoulder at the fuzzy mutant. "Blue-boy's right! We won't get anywhere just standing around. I don't know about you guys, but I'm not just gonna stand here and wait for that talking garbage bag and his flunkies to finish us off."
"All right, but we can't just jump into this mess without thinking." She thought of her first mission when they discovered Rogue, and grimaced with embarrassment at her own lack of tactfulness. Kitty let out a sigh, realizing she was overruled before running after the others towards the source of the lightshow.
Back in New York…
Tony Stark had been balancing two lives for a long time now, trying to keep up with the management of his corporation while juggling his superhero duties as Iron Man. Usually one of these two duties would offset the other, but this past week had been nothing but trouble on both ends. It had been a rough week for Iron Man between his meeting with SHIELD and the giant chain of terrible things that had happened in the last week. Not to mention that one of his business partners had recent been exposed as the notorious Kingpin.
Having taken the night off to catch up on paperwork at the office, the part time superhero felt more exhausted than ever. Tonight he had put the armor into storage in exchange for a red collar shirt and yellow tie. As he sat behind the desk on the top floor of Stark Tower, the tension began building in his shoulders. The exasperated hero threw down his pen and reclined slightly, taking a moment to admire his office.
It was a large, spacious room with a gray décor, a potted plant sitting in the corner, and a small set of steps leading down to the wide area where his desk was located. There were a couple of paintings and abstract statues, showing a taste for modern art. Most impressive was the large window that spanned the entire back wall behind his desk, allowing him an impressive view of Manhattan's most prominent districts.
"Sometimes I don't know what hurts more… The super villains beating me senseless, or keeping this company from running itself into the ground." He mused out loud, letting out a deep-throated sigh.
Pushing back his chair, the businessman stood up and turned towards the window, silently taking in his view of the city's lights. New York was known as the city that never slept, a stereotype that was all too real for anyone that could see the brightly lit settlement late at night. As these thoughts floated through his mind, Stark glanced at his watch to see that it was already past midnight. He yawned like a hibernating bear, but the sound of the door refocused his attention.
A woman with shoulder-length red hair stepped into the room, her pale complexion covered with freckles. She was finely dressed, her black power suit, serious demeanor, and matching heels giving her a very professional vibe.
Her employer kept his back turned towards her, a smile sliding onto his weary face as he watched her through the reflection in the window. "Hey Pepper!" he greeted cheerfully. "Not that I'm not happy to see you, but I didn't expect anyone to waltz in at one o'clock in the morning."
"Sorry if I caught you at a bad time, Tony… It wasn't really my decision to make."
"Just tell whoever it is to come back in the morning." The tired businessman stifled a loud yawn by placing a hand to his mouth. "I'm just about ready to head off to bed anyway. This isn't the best time for me."
"I'm sure the great Iron Man can make time!" A new but familiar voice came from behind them.
Pepper Potts stepped aside as the visitor entered her employer's office. He was a tall man with a solid build, and was garbed in the dark uniforms of the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate with thick black boots. The organization's insignia was stamped on the buckle of his belt, and he had a blaster hanging out of the attached holster. The newcomer wore a stern unwavering expression. One of his most striking characteristics was the patch covering his left eye.
"Nick Fury… What a surprise." Iron Man mumbled with a sarcastic expression, his expression changing to match that of a child whose birthday had been canceled. He glanced sideways at his loyal employee. "Ms. Potts, would you be so kind as to wait in the hall for a minute."
"Of course, sir." The redhead complied, quietly sliding the door shut behind her as she left.
Tony seated himself with an unreadable expression, gently kicking back so that he was reclining slightly on his seat. "Well since you so kindly let yourself in… Go ahead and sit down! Take a load off!" He gestured unnecessarily to the large, comfy-looking armchair positioned directly in front of his desk.
The SHIELD director did not sit down and instead chose to wave aside his host's snarky comments. "I've got places to go and people to see… This isn't a social visit."
"It never is with you people." Tony rolled his eyes before leaning on his desk, his expression becoming much more serious "Now, what could the director of the world's most powerful law-enforcement agency possibly want with a lowly weapons maker like me?"
"Save it for later, Stark." Fury cut him off, looking unusually impatient compared to his normally composed self. "However much SHIELD disapproves of it, I didn't come here to discuss your international vigilante activities."
His host relaxed a little, looking considerably more serious. "Well, it must've been a pretty big situation if you came here to tell me the details."
The director took a cigarette out of his pocket, using his opposite hand to light the end. He stood silent for a moment and took a few puffs before resuming the conversation. "Although your actions as Iron Man are not legally sanctioned, I thought it might be a good idea to deliver some files and information, in the case the situation arises where it could be helpful."
Tony leaned forward with an apprehensive look. "Wait a minute… You're actually supporting my efforts?"
"I can't be involved in any official capacity, but that recent breakout at the Vault resulted in the release of several bad guys into the city. There's a major threat to public safety all over New York, especially since the Kingpin isn't around anymore to keep the bad guys in line."
"Oh yeah, you're talking about the power vacuum that Spider-Man and those mutants caused. It also doesn't help that Fisk had forged an alliance with my company and was contributing a large sum of money to our newest project." He sighed in exasperation, remembering the ramifications of the situation. "Thanks to that yellow journalist, J. Jonah Jameson, everyone knows what the fat man was involved in. This is bound to make Stark Industries look bad when word gets out."
His guest nodded in agreement. "The truth is, I feel slightly responsible for this outcome."
"Is the great Nick Fury admitting he goofed up?" the executive asked with a humorous note.
"Not exactly…" the director's gaze wandered for a moment as he flung the barely touched cigarette into the nearest trash bin. "Two men sent to New York on SHIELD's jurisdiction also participated in the toppling of the Kingpin. To make matters worse, I received word that HYDRA was directly responsible for instigating this mess."
"And what could they possibly have gained by getting involved in this catastrophe?"
Nick Fury paused in thought, although he wasn't certain how to say anything without jumping to conclusions or giving too much information out. "We… Don't really know." His gaze hardened again as he seized another topic. "However, we received word from our men on the inside, that Luchino Nefaria managed to seize control of Manhattan's underworld when Silvio Manfretti landed himself in jail."
"Well, that's not good. Count Nerfaria's a lot more driven than the Fisk of Silvermane. I can't imagine anything god coming out of this." He slid down in his chair and mulled the thoughts over for a moment. "You probably could have told me this stuff using my private phone line, so why are you really here?"
The director of SHIELD reached into his jacket and pulled out a folder brimming with several important documents before laying it onto the desk. Tony Stark flipped through the mass of papers, his eyes widening as he saw the list of names and their profiles. The sheer amount of information on each of the profiled criminals was immense, although he had already guessed what the files really were.
Iron Man's eyes steadily widened as he skimmed through the contents. "Trapster, Jackal, Arnim Zola, Hydro-Man, Whiplash, Jack O' Lantern, the Enforcers, Omega Red, Titania, Mysterio, Sandman, Bullet, Man-Ape, Wizard… These guys are all super villains."
"It's a detailed report on every single super villain, convict, or criminal that escaped from the Vault that night." Fury elaborated. "Spider-Man and his friends managed to stop a couple, but most of the cons got away and disappeared during the chaos made by that giant gang war."
"Why give these to me?" Tony Stark questioned with a curious look.
"The reason I came here in person was to deliver these in case they can come in handy. A good Samaritan like yourself needs to be prepared for these types of things." He turned his back on the corporate executive. "We have a feeling that something really bad is about to happen."
"Care to explain more, or would you prefer that I make some stabs in the dark?"
Nick Fury exhaled deeply before facing the part-time superhero. "We did some digging and found out that a few villains have been disappearing."
Stark relaxed slightly. "Well, it's better they go into hiding than put innocent people in danger."
"An old friend of mine living in Bayville reported that the Juggernaut vanished into thin air after he was defeated. A few hours ago, I also received an emergency transmission from Reed Richards, saying that the same thing happened to a pack of bad guys that the Fantastic Four dispatched."
The wealthy superhero stroked his bearded chin thoughtfully. "Now that you mention it, there were police and SHIELD agents ripping this city apart after Fisk was dethroned, and no one ever found Otto Octavius after he hobbled away half-dead following the gang war."
"Although it's only a theory, I have a strange feeling that someone out there is recruiting some of these villains for some kind of grand scheme."
"Which is why you want Iron Man to investigate for you." Tony Stark finished with a knowing expression, looking highly amused by when his guest refused to look him directly in the eye. "If you started chasing windmills without any real evidence and only a bunch of crazy claims from superheroes, the government would probably question the validity of your position."
The visitor gave his host a stern glare. "There's a lot more to this than I'd be willing to tell you, but something big is definitely going on in the criminal underworld right now. With HYDRA on the move and the power vacuum in New York, SHIELD has too much to worry about without adding more."
The part-time hero nodded once to affirm his agreement. "Let me get this straight. You've got your hands tied, so you want me to keep track of this for you? Sounds like you must be pretty desperate to ask me for help."
"You always say you want to make a difference… Let's see if you can live up to that." Nick Fury made eye contact with Tony Stark, his gaze boring into the object of his scrutiny. "Can I rely on you to help while keeping this under wraps?"
Iron Man considered the entire situation for a moment, although it made him angry to imagine that he was being used without even knowing the full details. He had been at odds with the director of SHIELD for some time now, which made this current scenario so unexpected. Stark paused hoping that Fury would say more, but said nothing else to convince or dissuade the armored vigilante one way or the other.
After several minutes of awkward silence, Tony Stark ran a hand through his short black hair and groaned with a sense of dislike. "I know I'm probably going to regret this, but… We've got a deal!"
"Glad to hear it." Nick Fury nodded in agreement before tossing a small black box in his host's direction. "Take this!"
The armored vigilante caught it effortlessly, holding the device up to his face and shaking it like a child inspecting a new toy. "Let me guess… This is some kind of walkie talkie you SHIELD folks like to use?"
"It's a link to my private line aboard the Helicarrier. Not even the President of the United States has the means of using this system I established." He began to head for the exit, not bothering to spare his host a second glance. "Until next time… Stay in touch!"
Tony Stark watched his guest disappear through the doors, looking relieved to see him leave without adding anything else the conversation. If Iron Man had been stressed out before, it was nothing compared to the way he felt now. At least before Fury's visit, he was ready to head off to bed, but now it felt like his brain had just launched into overdrive. He silently reached into a draw, pulling out a small bottle of expensive whiskey. Alcohol was a good fix, but at times like this, he wished he had real super powers just to cope with the stress of his life.
Cracking open the bottle, he swallowed a large gulp, letting the liquor burn away at his insides. "Ugh… There are days when I wonder whether or not this superhero thing is really worth all the trouble." He muttered to himself, quietly setting the bottle back down on his desk.
Note to Readers: Phew… Another chapter down. It took me a while to get to it, but I managed it somehow. I actually have the story mapped out pretty well now, so hopefully things should run more smoothly than before. Sorry for any typos or any errors in spelling or grammar, but as usual, I typically write this late it night. Hope it doesn't feel to rushed or badly written, since I was trying to push the story forward… There's still at least two story arcs let after Mojo's defeat!
So much went on in this chapter, most prominently the return of the Brotherhood. They played such a big role in the X-Men: Evolution series that I just had to find a way to put them in. Expect to see them all soon enough! Forge also reappeared to help, seeing how he's the only person they know that can deal with the mess Mojo made.
I added in that bit with Iron Man and Nick Fury just to drop more hints about the sequel that I've been planning to write. If you begin connecting those hints with the other ones I've been dropping, you'll figure out quickly that the next story will use a LOT of characters and ideas from the Marvel World!
Until next time, please REVIEW! I tend to be more motivated to write if I get some good feedback. If you loved or hated something, had any critiques to make, guesses as to what is about to happen, or even suggestions, I'll gladly take them. Which reminds me… Thanks to Quill N. Inque for giving support despite how long it took me to update. A special thanks to Rider Paladin for suggesting Forge make an appearance! It really helped me a lot. If you guys have any other contributions, please give them to me!