Chapter Eight - REDEMPTION

'You're kidding me,' Logan breathed when he saw what the girls were pointing at. It disappeared behind some skyscrapers for a moment and Logan thought that he might have been hallucinating. Then he got another look at it. 'Kurt, what have they done to you?'

'And here I though Attack of the Fifty-Foot Nightcrawler was on tomorrow night,' Kitty joked. Nobody laughed.

'Well, I'm open to suggestions, people,' Logan said.

Carol put her arm around his waist and lifted him into the air.

'Hey, where are we going?' he asked.

'To talk to it,' Carol replied. 'You got any better ideas.'

'Well, what are we waiting for?' Kitty asked Rachel.

With a shrug, Rachel telekinetically lifted both Kitty and herself into the air after them.

* * *

Storm had not stayed to witness the transformation. Once she realised that she could not stop it her priorities shifted to staying alive long enough to reverse it. Unfortunately, now that the spell was complete, the sorcerers were free to pursue her. If only the others were awake, but they were not and she was on her own. Well, it would not be the first time.

She pounded up the stairs and onto the landing. She could hear the sound of pursuit and judging by the heavy footfalls it was Caven following her. She needed somewhere to hide and she darted through a door on her left into a bedroom.

Caven lumbered in after her, immediately crossing to the wide-open windows. Storm rolled out from under the double bed and charged him with her shoulder. It was like running into a brick wall. She managed to force him back so he was leaning out of the opening, but he was in no danger of losing his balance. He twisted and wrapped a large hand around Storm's throat. Then he began to squeeze.

She spat in his face and his grip slackened. Twisting her feet, she tripped him and he pitched backwards. With another shove, she propelled him out of the window. With his left hand he managed to grab hold of the sill. Storm slammed the window on his fingers and he let go. She leaned out of the window to see where he had landed. He had caught his head on the flagstones below and there was blood on his forehead. He was only stunned, however, and was beginning to sit up. Storm glanced quickly around the room, noticing a heavy wooden chest of bed linen. With a grunt of effort, Storm hefted the chest and threw it out of the window after him. There was a shout and then he lay still.

* * *

The demon was climbing out of the bay. The X-Men landed on the roof of a nearby building to watch. The demon in Nightcrawler's form slammed a three-fingered fist down on a waterfront restaurant, crushing it.

'I don't know how long I can hold this,' Rachel said through gritted teeth. She was supporting the collapsed roof just above the heads of those inside using her telekinesis.

Carol took Kitty's hand and flew her over to the crushed building. Kitty phased through the wall.

'Quickly,' she shouted to the terrified patrons, 'everybody link hands.'

Bemused, but too terrified to argue, the people complied. Her hands moving from one body to the next, Kitty began to feed the human chain out through the wall. She could not have phased all of them at once, but she was not trying. She merely phased them as the past her on reaching the wall. The chain was to make sure no one got left behind. When she was satisfied, Kitty phased back through the wall to join Carol.

While she had been inside, the creature had demolished another building. Logan had carved a massive hole in the side with his claws and Rachel was floating people out in a telekinetic bubble.

'We've got to stop that thing,' Kitty said.

'Sure, but how?' Carol asked. 'If that really is Kurt are we prepared to fight him? Assuming that we even can.'

Car horns blared as traffic was crushed beneath the creature's feet. Sirens wailed, but the emergency services were unable to get through.

'Ray,' Kitty shouted to her friend as Carol flew her back to the others, 'those people need doctors.'

'On it,' Rachel replied and flew off.

'Now what?' Logan asked. 'We can't just keep cleaning up after that thing.'

'I'm going to talk to it,' Carol said, preparing to fly off.

Logan put a restraining hand on her arm. 'That's my job,' he said.

'Since when are you a diplomat, fuzzy,' Carol replied, shaking off his hand and flying towards the creature.

She hovered in front of the creature's face, feeling the heat of its breath. 'Who are you?' she shouted at it.

'I have no name,' the creature replied. Its voice was deep and guttural, completely unlike Kurt's. It sounded as if it was bubbling up from deep beneath the earth. 'I simply am.'

'Ohh-kay,' Carol said. She ran a hand nervously through her hair and wished Rogue wore it longer. Maybe after all this was over she could have a word with her about it. 'What do you want.'

'To destroy.' The demon laughed. 'My home is a blissful landscape of rock and fire. If I am to dwell here then I will remake your world in that image.'

'Not if I have anything to say about it, fuzz-face.' Carol lunged for the demon. It opened it's mouth and breathed at her and Carol found herself propelled backwards through a skyscraper.

* * *

Storm had risked sneaking downstairs again. She could here movement and pressed herself flat against the wall until the figure had gone by. She was hiding in the kitchen and, now that she could breath again, she resumed her search of the cutlery drawer for a weapon.

The figure was returning. Storm darted back into a shadowy corner. Isabelle was framed in the doorway.

'I know you're in there,' Isabelle said. 'You hurt Caven. You're a bad girl. And bad girls must be punished.' She giggled and turned to the open cutlery drawer.

Storm lunged forward, but Isabelle whirled holding a long carving knife, forcing Storm back across the room.

'Bad girl,' she shouted again, waving her arms. She scattered glasses and crockery from where they stood by the sink to the floor where the smashed and rolled. Broken glass lay between Storm and the door and she regretted leaving her boots behind. Isabelle advanced waving the knife wildly.

Isabelle frowned. 'You're not smiling,' she complained. Then her eyes brightened. 'Maybe I'll carve a smile for you.'

Storm reached behind her, not taking her eyes from Isabelle and the knife. She could feel a collection of pots and pans hanging from beneath the kitchen cabinets. Isabelle lunged and Storm grabbed a large frying pan just in time to parry the blow.

'No fair,' Isabelle moaned.

Storm advanced upon her, wielding the pan, but was forced to hop back when her bare feet encountered the broken glass. Isabelle smiled again. Storm reached behind her and picked up another pan, which she threw at Isabelle. The shot was wide, but it made her step back and that was all Storm needed. She sprang forward, over the glass, and landed on the kitchen table.

Isabelle swung the knife at her feet, but Storm hopped over it. She struck viciously at Isabelle's wrist again and again until she let go of the knife.

Isabelle started to cry. 'Leave me alone,' she whined. 'You're no fun any more.'

Isabelle turned and ran from the room.

* * *

Carol was hearing voices.

'You've got to let me help them,' they were saying.

Slowly the ringing in her head cleared and the voices coalesced into one.

'Please, let me back out there,' Rogue said.

'Why should I?' Carol asked. She noticed that she was back in her own body, wearing her Ms Marvel uniform. Rogue was standing opposite her. Nothing else was visible except for grey fog. 'You stole my life, Rogue. You took away everything I had. My powers, my memories. Have you ever noticed how much you like flying, Rogue?'

Rogue nodded, uncertainly.

'That's me in their, Rogue,' Carol said, tapping the side of her head. 'I'm the one who always wanted to fly. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a pilot.'

'Ah remember,' Rogue agreed. 'Ah used to make little model planes and hang 'em in my bedroom.'

'Not you, Rogue. Me,' Carol corrected. 'I'm the one who made the models. I'm the one who dreamed of flight. I'm the one who gave up everything to get into the Air Force. Me, Rogue. Not you. Me. But you've stolen that from me, as well, haven't you? The thrill you get hanging unsupported in the air. The feel of the wind in your hair. It's not you that responds to those things. It's that bit of me trapped inside of you.'

Carol expected Rogue to lash out, to strike her. She had this image of this evil vampire that had stolen her soul and she was ready to fight it. She did not expect Rogue to break down and cry.

'Don't tell me you hadn't realised it,' Carol taunted, not wanting to show this creature any sympathy, no matter how pitiful she appeared.

'You don't understand,' Rogue explained. 'I don't know who I am any more. It's all just voices in my head. When Ah taste an ice cream and decide Ah like the flavour, Ah don't know if that's me making that decision or you or anyone else I've got knocking around in here. My favourite colour's green, but Ah don't know if it always was, or if I just think that because it was someone else's favourite.'

'My favourite colour's blue,' Carol murmured.

'Ah don't know if there's any more of the real me left,' Rogue cried, 'or if Ah'm just being remade in everyone else's image.'

'It's no less than you deserve,' Carol told her. 'And now you want to me to give up this little bit of freedom I've just clawed back. Do you know that's the first time I've been able to talk to somebody since it happened, somebody I recognised from my past. You want me to just throw that away?'

'Please,' Rogue begged. 'They're my friends. Ah gotta help them.'

* * *

Tomas was waiting for her in the dining room.

'Storm,' he said, 'how nice of you to come back.'

'What have you done to Nightcrawler?' Storm demanded.

'Oh, he's simply acting as a vessel for the essence of a demon,' Tomas replied. 'The demon has remade him in its own image and is now levelling the city.'

'Call it back,' Storm ordered.

'I'm afraid I can't do that,' Tomas said. He drew his sword. 'Now, since you've dispatched my colleagues, perhaps you would care to match blades with me again.'

With a sweep of the knife she was holding, Storm severed the cord holding up the chandelier, which came crashing down on top of Tomas.

'My apologies,' Storm said, 'but I tried fighting fair once and look where it go me. Now recall that demon and free Nightcrawler.'

'Really, I can't,' Tomas insisted. 'Only Isabelle can do that and, thanks to you, she's no longer around.' He laughed. 'Whatever happens next is completely out of my hands now.'

* * *

'Rogue, is that you?' Logan asked as the woman landed next to him and Kitty.

'Sure is,' Rogue replied. 'What's been happening while Ah was out of it?'

'Take a look,' Logan suggested, pointing at the demon.

Rachel appeared in the distance, towing two ambulances. She set them down near the worst affected areas and landed with the others.

'Good job, kid,' Logan said to her. She smiled.

Kitty was staring at the creature.

'What's on your mind?' Rogue asked.

'Oh, nothing much,' Kitty admitted. 'Demonology's not one of my subjects.' She snapped her fingers. 'But I know someone who might help. Rachel, I need you to mind-link me with Illyana.'

'Kitty,' Rachel replied, 'Illyana's halfway round the world. That'd be a stretch even for the professor.'

'Uh, uh,' Kitty shook her head, 'hear me out. Kitty and I already share a special bond. I just need you to boost it so we can communicate.'

'Well, I'll give it a go,' Rachel agreed. 'It might be best if we both sat down first though.'

* * *

Reality melted away around her. She was back in her room in the X-Mansion, the room she shared with Illyana. Illyana was lying on her bed, beneath a poster for a satanic rock group that was not really to Kitty's taste. The girl was dressed in her yellow and black training uniform, her sword arm covered by some form of metal armour. Her Soulsword rested against her bedside cabinet.

Illyana looked up, flicking her long blonde, almost white, hair out of her eyes as she did so.

'Well, look what the cat dragged in,' she said. Although she was Russian there was no trace of an accent. She had not been in Russia since she was six years old and her upbringing since had hardly been conventional. 'Long time no see. How's life on the West Coast?'

Kitty was staring around the room incredulously. Illyana was supposed to be in Scotland, not Westchester.

Illyana drummed her fingers impatiently on the cabinet. 'It's not real,' she said. 'We're both on the astral plane, remember. I take it all of this is for my benefit.'

'We're in big trouble,' Kitty said.

'I know, Rachel's already given me the details.' Illyana tapped the side of her head. 'Data dump.'

'Data what?'

'You're the computer geek,' Illyana protested, 'you explain it to me. All I know is that it's like that, but with thoughts.'

'Well?' Kitty prompted.

'Wellit'd probably be best if I came out there to join you,' Illyana said. 'With the sword, I've got a shot a dispelling this thing. The professor will have a fit if he finds out though. That's reason enough to do it on its own.'

Illyana swung her feet of the bed and lifted her sword. Then she began to summon her stepping disk. A circle of light appeared at her feet, gradually rising up her body. Illyana was supposed to disappear when it touched her. She did not.

'Bloody hell,' she swore.

'Language,' Kitty admonished.

'You're starting to sound like Rahne,' Illyana commented. 'That should have worked. I should be standing right next to you now.'

'So what happened?' Kitty asked.

'Must be some kind of interference caused by the demon. It won't let my magicks through.' Illyana pouted. 'I could always go back to before the demon appeared and then wait for you to contact me before showing up. No, just thinking about that makes my head hurt. Bit like one of the big M's physics lectures. Where's he in all this anyway?'

'Missing in action,' Kitty explained.

'Something got Magneto?' Illyana practically jumped up and down with delight. 'This I've got to see.'

'This is serious,' Kitty said.

'I know,' Illyana admitted. 'I just think it'll do him good to see he's not invulnerable.' She sat down on the bed again. 'Back to plan B.'

'Which is?' Kitty prompted.

'I'm working on it,' Illyana protested.

'Well, could you hurry it up. We're running out of time.'

'Two things,' Illyana snapped holding up her fingers. 'One, we are not running out of time because none of this is happening in real time anyway. Two, the professor's decided to spring a math test on us tomorrow and demon sorceress or not I'm having trouble switching gears. I keep seeing quadratic equations in front of my eyes.'

'Scary,' Kitty agreed.

'Scarier than your demon, that's for sure.' Kitty was not quite certain what happened next. Illyana seemed to open a fold in the fabric of reality, stick her hand into it and retrieve a book. She started flicking through the pages. 'Think of it as a scrapbook,' Illyana said. 'Demons I have known and hated. I'd guess this guy's your typical lesser demon. They're big on all this death and destruction stuff. Makes then feel superior when we all know that they're the runts of the litter. All the standard demon featuresvulnerability to ironthough where you'll get enough iron to dispel him is beyond me. There's also another problem. If you kill the demon while he's still inside Kurt then you'll kill Kurt too. Somehow, you've got to convince him to leave voluntarily.'

'Oh, that's a big help,' Kitty complained.

'Well, what do you expect?' Illyana retorted. 'If I'd known you want miracles I'd have dug out God's mobile number. Now hop it, I've got studying to do.'

* * *

Kitty blinked and she found herself back in the real world. Rogue helped her to her feet. She was still a little unsteady after her out-of-body experience. She turned to Rachel.

'Did you get all that?' she asked.

'Yes,' she replied, 'and I think I've got an idea.'

'Mind sharing it with us, darlin'?' Logan said.

'No time,' Rachel responded. 'I'll need the three of you to keep that thing busy until I get back.'

Logan extended his claws. 'Look, kid, these things aren't exactly meant for defence. I'm liable to do the elf some serious damage if I get into a roughhouse.'

'I doubt that,' Rachel answered. 'I don't think you'll be able to hurt the demon at all. But we need to keep it contained.'

'We're on it,' Kitty said. 'Just hurry back.'

Rachel flew off into the night.

'Fastball special, Wolvie?' Rogue asked.

'You read my mind,' he replied.

With a little difficulty, Rogue hefted the smaller mutant in one hand, the she hurled him head first at the demon. He extended his claws and found himself embedded like and arrow in the creature's chest. He began using his claws to climb up the creature, slashing its flesh as he went. He looked back and saw the wounds healing almost as fast as he could cut them. It seemed Rachel had been right.

If Logan had been an arrow, Rogue was a cannonball as she slammed into the creature's temple. It bellowed with rage and raised its arm to grab her, but Rogue had been expecting that. She flew behind it and began pummelling it between the shoulder blades where the creature could not reach.

Kitty did not attempt to fight the demon. Instead she phased so that she could walk on air and stood in front of it, hurling abuse at it. The demon tried to claw at her, but while she was phased it had nothing to hold on to.

It tired of Logan first. Tilting its head, it unleashed its super-heated breath on him. The heat did not bother Logan, his healing factor would deal with any burns, but he could not hold on in the gale force winds and he slid slowly down the demon onto the ground.

Rogue may have been out of reach of the demon's hands, but she had forgotten its tail. It coiled up behind her and grabbed her about the waist. Then the demon flung her far away from it.

'Not again,' Rogue cried as she slammed through another building.

Kitty may have been untouchable, but while phased she could not breathe. Eventually, she came to land next to Logan gasping for air.

'Do you think we did enough?' she panted.

'What do you think?' he said.

* * *

The flaming giant came lumbering down the street to confront the demon. If that was a giant perversion of Nightcrawler then this was the same, but with Phoenix as the subject. She towered over them, dressed as a Hound and masked, surrounded by the flames of the Phoenix effect.

'Greetings, little one,' the Phoenix said to the demon. 'Why do you spoil my city so?'

'Because a can,' the demon growled in response. 'Because I have the power to do so.'

'The Phoenix laughed. 'Power, little one? You do not know the meaning of the word. I have power the like of which you cannot even dream of. I can snuff out suns with but a stray thought if I wished. You may be able to remake this planet, but I could remake the universe.'

The demon was looking at its opponent craftily.

'But power can be usurped,' it said.

'Usurped!' The Phoenix laughed again. 'Are you threatening me, little one?'

The demon moved closer. 'I will possess you. I will break your body and your spirit and I will make your power my own.'

'You can try,' the Phoenix mocked.

'I shall.' A red haze crossed from the demon's eyes and engulfed the giant Phoenix. As the haze left the body it shrunk and reverted to Nightcrawler's original form. He fell from the sky, but Rogue flew up and caught him before he struck the ground.

'Great,' Kitty said to Logan, 'we've freed one X-Man only to lose another.'

'You think?' Kitty turned to see Rachel standing behind her, a face contorted with intense concentration.

'Watch,' she said.

And with a wave of her hand she dispersed the Phoenix effect.

The demon had willingly entered the body of the Sentinel. It screamed.

'Trapped in that much iron, I don't think we'll have to worry about him any more,' Rachel said, brushing imaginary dust from her hands.

'You did good, kid,' Logan said. 'I don't think I tell you that nearly enough.'

'Too right,' Rachel agreed.

* * *

It was just before dawn and Logan was once again sitting on the bench in the garden. The others were all resting after the day's exertions. Logan had ribbed Magneto about his being taken out of play so early in the came and the master of magnetism had looked ready to turn his skeleton into cutlery had Storm not intervened. Both she and Magnus had congratulated Rachel once they had heard of her part in the demon's destruction. They were understandably pleased with their protégé. Strange to think how much had happened in the past forty-eight hours. He lit up another of his cigars. Jessica would not let him smoke in the house so he had to take the opportunity wherever he got it.

'C'mon out, elf,' he growled.

'How do you do it, mein freund,' Kurt asked. 'I know for a fact that I was downwind of you.'

'I could tell you, elf, but then I'd have to kill you.'

'No file tonight, I see,' Kurt said as he sat down next to his friend.

'No, I don't think I'm going to need that anymore,' Logan admitted.

'You don't think Rachel will become the Dark Phoenix?'

Logan shrugged. 'I dunno, elf, and to be honest she still scares me. But I'll deal with that when it happens, not before. She's got her own life to lead and she doesn't need me judging her all the time.'

'Amen to that,' Kurt said. Logan ignored him.

He stared up at that smudge of the Milky Way. 'I don't know how things are gonna turn out, misfit,' Logan concluded, 'but I do know that, whatever happens, that kids going to do her Mom proud.

And perhaps, somewhere in the heavens, Jean Grey smiled.