Disclaimer: I still don't own any of 'em and I'm sure not making any money off this.

A/N: Well, here, finally, is Chapter 18. I am kissing the ground in thanksgiving for having finally gotten it out, on paper and posted. It fought me the entire way. I have at least five different versions of this chapter, none of which worked like I wanted. This last one was as close as I could come. I can only hope chapter 19 will be a little more cooperative. The next two chapters or so will probably come a little slower because they're going to involve a lot of research, so please bear with me.

Chapter 18 – Scattered Pieces

Pale, trembling, and feeling not a little shell-shocked, Illyana sat down on the bed in the room that she and Kitty used to share, dropping her head down into her hands as her cascade of golden hair fell around her face like a silken curtain.

It wasn't often, anymore, that anything could surprise her, that she could be caught off guard, startled. She'd been through too much, learned too much, over the years for that to happen.

Today, however, had proven to be one of those rare, almost nonexistent times.

The young Russian woman knew she was being rather unsociable – sitting up here in the dark by herself, where she'd run after the latest round of surprises in a day that had proven to be full of them - but she was having a very hard time coping with all she'd learned since she stepped back into this world this afternoon. Her mind simply couldn't process it fast enough it seemed

Rogue, Storm, Wolverine, Psylocke.....Peter. All the X-Men she'd thought had died in Dallas were still alive. Had been alive all along. It had all been a ruse. A really stupid, cruel ruse.....but a ruse, none the less. And Illyana truly had no idea how to feel about it.

She kept waffling somewhere between eternally thankful that her brother - as well as the rest of her friends in the X-Men - was alive, and royally pissed off that they'd put her, Kitty, Kurt, and so many others, through that hell for no good reason. They'd mourned for them. For months. It was a toss up as to which feeling would win out in the end.

Of course, was what they did really that much different from what I did?

No. Though her reasons were certainly better, more sound, she concluded that it probably wasn't really any different. But that didn't make it any easier to accept. Or make it hurt any less.

Then, there was the little girl she'd sent back here in her place. The Illyana that belonged to that first team of X-Men.

She'd thought she was doing a good thing, sending that child here, away from Belasco, from S'ym, where she would have parents and friends who loved her and would look after her. Where she'd thought that she'd be safe. And, at the same time, leaving her own parents at least one child, instead of them losing both Peter and herself almost on top of one another.

But she'd been oh so wrong. Because of her decision, her parents had been murdered, that other Illyana had died of the Legacy virus, and Peter had been driven nearly insane by grief, thinking he'd lost all the family he had.

When Rogue had told her about the way her brother had behaved, the things he'd done, she'd scarcely been able to believe it. It hadn't sounded even remotely like the Piotr she'd known, the gentle, artistic, soul who would much rather paint than fight and who'd always served as protector, not aggressor.

He'd always fought because he had to, because he'd thought it was the right thing to do. Not because he wanted to. Not because it was his nature to do so.

At that point, she would have really liked to believe that she had, indeed, landed in the wrong dimension. But she couldn't. Not after all the things Rogue had told her, had shown her, that proved she was exactly where she'd meant to be.

As if all that weren't bad enough, there had been everything that Kitty had been going through. Not just the past few weeks or months, but the past several years. All the people she'd lost, her relationship with Peter – which seemed to be nothing so much as a never ending disaster – Scott's death, Moira's death, the death of that spy she'd dated for a while.....

Huh. Kitty, with some rough, obnoxious British spy who was, apparently, a real piece of work. Who woulda ever thought?

Certainly not her. The very idea boggled the mind and Illyana was determined to get all the details out of her friend if they made it out of this thing alive.

Kitty had been fighting against the forces set out to work against them, to confuse and corrupt them, for what sounded like months now. Alone. And Illyana knew from experience that it was never an easy battle.

From what she was hearing, it was a wonder Kitty was still sane.

Illyana had known that it would be hardest for her friend, out of all of them - because she was the central figure in all of this - but there had been nothing she could do about it, nothing she could do to make things easier. No matter how much she might have wanted to. Which had put them at a huge disadvantage.

They were already working under a handicap, and it was only going to get worse. What had just happened in Genosha was a prime example of that.

Of course, they didn't know all the details, yet. But she knew enough to know that things had progressed much farther than she'd believed possible.

Rogue, Storm, and all the rest seemed to believe that the Sentinels were the work of some human, earthly force. Illyana knew better. Magneto could search and threaten all he liked, he'd never find the party responsible. And, for that, he should be thankful.

It was all so overwhelming. Even to her, and she knew much more about what was happening, what was going to happen, than Kitty did. She could only imagine how overwhelmed, how lost and hopeless, her friend was feeling.

And, then, for Illyana, there was the added surprise of finding out her brother was not only alive, but was also a part of all this.

Of all the information contained in The Book, of everything she'd learned over the last seven years, three things had continually eluded her. The identity of the third Sister, the identity of the Champion, and the identity of the High Priestess.

Now, at least, one of those identities was revealed, in a way she would never have believed possible before today. It made her wonder what lay in store down the road, and seriously ponder if she actually wanted to know.

She'd expected things to be different, of course, after so long a time. But she hadn't expected anything like this. And Illyana really wasn't sure how she should handle it, what her next step should be.

Within the last hours, she'd been presented with three urgent tasks and her head was spinning with it all. She was terribly afraid she didn't have the time she needed to sort it all out. Things had progressed much farther than she would have thought possible before they were all pulled together and time was running very, very short.

Two weeks. Three at the outside. That was all. They had to pull it all together, make all the pieces of the puzzle fit, within that time if they didn't want everything they'd gone through to be for nothing. She wasn't really sure it was possible within that time frame.

Illyana was a natural teleporter and a very powerful sorceress, but even she couldn't be in three or four places at one time. And that's what this was going to apparently take.

She raised her head as a shadow fell across the door, finding the man she'd met earlier....Oh, what was his name?.....Remy. That was it. Remy. They called him Gambit. Rogue's boyfriend. Would wonder's never cease?

Remy was standing in the doorway, watching her quietly with those strange red on black eyes that she found slightly disconcerting.

He was a strange one. Seemingly outgoing, outrageously flirtatious, yet he never seemed to truly reveal anything of himself. As if it were all a front, a mask, the charming, rakish exterior he cultivated to keep the world at bay, to keep anyone from seeing inside the real man.

In him, Illyana instinctively recognized something of a kindred spirit. Someone with a past that wasn't exactly pristine, a soul who had walked quite a long way through the darkness before finally making it out into the light. Someone who would always be slightly in the shadows, no matter how much they wanted the sun.

Despite the fact that she'd managed to overcome Belasco's influence over her, had managed to cast out the demons that had haunted her for so long, had thrown off the illusions and the lies to find a measure of peace and purpose, it had all left it's mark on her soul, on her life. She might have finally put it all behind her, but she would never forget.

And she would never allow it to happen again.

The two regarded one another openly, each studying the other with frank curiosity, for a few moments, Remy's face never changing from that bland, almost aloof expression he wore as his eyes seemed to bore into her.

Finally, after a long silence, he spoke, his voice low, smooth, softly accented, reminding her of aged whiskey and steamy, southern nights.

"You ok, petit´?"

With a soft snort of laughter that was totally humorless, Illyana shook her head. "No, not really. Though I'll live I suppose."

"Mind some company?"

With a little shrug, Illyana motioned to the twin bed a few feet away, the one that used to be Kitty's many, many years ago. "Help yourself."


It was only as he entered the room, sauntering over to the bed to take a seat across from her, that Illyana realized he wasn't alone. Rogue, who had apparently been standing in the hallway behind him, followed in on his heels, taking a seat beside Gambit, both of them facing her.

Rogue gazed over at her with big, wet, emerald green eyes, her own upset and sorrow evident in the lines of grief and worry etched on her face, the dark circles under her eyes from days with little or no sleep.

"We don't mean to bother you. We just wanted to see if ya needed anything."

"Yeah," the younger woman replied sharply, with a short, bitter laugh. "I'd like a life that makes some sense for once, if you wouldn't mind too much. And a damn clue what I'm supposed to do now would be nice, too."

Dropping her eyes, Rogue nodded, her hands twisting nervously in her lap. "Yeah. Me, too."

The sadness in her soft voice was evident and Illyana immediately felt a sharp stab of guilt. Why was she taking this out on Rogue? It certainly wasn't her fault and she was already very upset. She'd recently lost the only mother she'd ever known, one of her best friends was missing, and the rest of her friends...no, her family...seemed to be falling to pieces around her. There was no purpose served in making her feel worse.

As Illyana watched, without a word, or even a glance her way, Gambit slid his hand over Rogue's, gently unknotting them and enveloping one of her small, gloved hands in his larger one. She clung to it tightly, as if he were her lifeline.

And, in a lot of ways, he probably is, Yana told herself, giving the other woman an apologetic look. I'm glad he's here for her. She needs somebody who really cares for her. She deserves that.

"I'm sorry, Rogue. I don't mean to take this all out on you. I just feel so overwhelmed. I thought I knew what to expect. Then, I get here and....." Trailing off, she shook her head in frustration, briefly closing her eyes as if she could simply shut it all out and make it go away. "....and nothing's like I thought it would be. There's so much I need to do, and I need to do it all at once. And I have no idea how."

Remy cocked his head to one side, his red-black eyes meeting her deep blue ones, though she could read nothing at all from them. There wasn't the emotion there that she'd clearly seen in Rogue.

He was like a closed book and - though she knew from what Rogue had said earlier that this man and Kitty were rather good friends – no hint of what he might be feeling showed through that blank mask at all. Apparently, he hadn't quite decided if he would open up for her or not. Not that she blamed him.

"Why don't you tell us what you need, petit´? Maybe we can help."

"What I need," she began with a resigned, tired sigh, "is to be in three different places at one time. I doubt even the X-Men can help with that."

"You might be surprised." the Cajun returned calmly, settling back and obviously expecting her to comply with his request, his whole demeanor telling her that he wouldn't be willing to take no for an answer, and that he would happily wait her out.

Oh, yeah. This one is definitely a good match for Rogue. I doubt there's very much that could happen that would phase him.

With a resigned sigh, Illyana nodded, conceding the point simply because she really didn't have the energy to argue.

"All right. I need to find all of Irene Adler's diaries. I need to find Kitty and get the amulet away from her. I need to find my brother. And, I need to find them all within the next week at the very latest. Plus, one more person that I don't even know yet. Then, I need to get us all at the same place, at the same time, and in one piece."

"Ah knew it." At the mention of Destiny's Diaries, Rogue's head snapped up, green eyes blazing. "Ah knew those damned diaries would come into this before it was all over. Ah shoulda burned the damned things to ashes when Ah had the chance. They've never been nothin' but trouble. Not since Irene first wrote 'em. There's been more sufferin', trouble, and death because of those books than just about anything else Ah can think of, short of Apocalypse....."

Reaching out, Illyana laid a hand on Rogue's arm, to both calm her and draw her attention. "No, you don't understand. The books shouldn't be destroyed. They can be used for good, and they can be understood. And they are very important in what I need to do. They just have to be in the hands of someone able to comprehend them."

"I haft'a agree with Rogue." Gambit put in, looking from one woman to the other. "I'm not sure there's any good can come of those books. An' it's cost too many lives already. We ain't seen nobody yet that can use those books to do anything but hurt."

"Well, you have now. Because I can." Illyana assured them with absolute surety.

At her assertion, Remy cocked one eyebrow skeptically in her direction, clearly not believing her. "An' how you know that, petit´? 'Cause, I gotta tell ya, that's a tune we've heard before."

Illyana smiled at them both, knowing that they didn't understand and not sure that she would be able to explain it to them in a way that wouldn't just cause them more confusion. So, she just gave them the simpliest answer she had.

"I know, because those books are my Destiny. They were written for me. I was meant to understand them." When it became apparent that they still didn't exactly believe her, the young woman knew she was going to have to give them proof. She couldn't risk them finding one or more of the diaries and destroying them out of ingnorance of their true purpose. "Hang on."

Closing her eyes, Illyana concentrated for a moment, holding both her hands out in front of her, palms up. Within a few seconds, it seemed as if the air around her was suddenly infused with a brilliant, blue-white light and, slowly, a book materialized in her hands.

"Mon dieu!" Remy leaned slightly forward, looking her over curiously. "I thought you were a teleporter?"

As the brilliant glow slowly faded, she opened her eyes and looked down at the tome. "I am. A chronovariant teleporter. But, this isn't part of my mutation, thought it is connected to it in some way. This book is mine and it's a lot more than what it appears to be at first glance. Just like the Soulsword is part of Kitty, this book is a part of me. Only, it took me a very long time to realize it....."

Both Rogue and Gambit studied the volume curiously, once they were over the initial shock of it's sudden appearance. After a moment, Rogue's eyes narrowed to slits as she recognized the look of it. "That looks like one of Irene's Diaries...."

The pretty blonde nodded. "Yes, it does. But it's far older than anything Irene Adler ever wrote. This book is like a key, and index, that links all the diaries together, makes them understandable. It's the reason I'm so certain I can understand them. I'm really the only one who can. And it's part of something that involves me, Kitty, Piotr, the Soulsword, Irene Adler's Diaries, Limbo and so many more elements that I can't possibly list them all. At least, not right now." She threw her two companions a rather sardonic grin. "Mainly because I haven't figured it all out myself, yet. But, I've got to start working on it. I don't have a lot of time."

The two older mutants turned toward one another almost simultaneously, exchanging a look that Illyana couldn't decipher as they seemed to come to some kind of silent agreement before turning back. Again, it was Remy who broke the silence.

"If you need the books, then we'll help you look for them. An' we'll start right here. Mystique gave the five she had to Charlie an' they're somewhere in this house. We just haven't been able to track 'em down yet. When we do, then we deal with the rest, d'accord?"

With a smile of thanks, Illyana nodded her agreement. It was a surprise to learn that five of the books were here, but it was a welcome one. That would be several that she wouldn't have to track down the hard way. In the meantime, she'd be working on a way to locate Kitty, the Amulet, the rest of the diaries, and the third Sister. It was a lot to hope that they could accomplish within such a short amount of time, but she didn't have any choice but to try. Too much depended on it.

"So, let me see if I get this straight...."

Arms folded on the table, expression carefully schooled into one of calm contemplation, Rachel Summers, also known as Phoenix, stared across the table at her two companions, trying to absorb the sudden crash course she'd just been given in the events of the last few weeks. Actually, scratch that. The last few years would be more like it.

And, none of it, she was sorry to say, was making very much sense to her right now.

"....Kitty begins acting strange, becoming hostile, withdrawn, and well....strange. But everybody just sorta attributes it all to stress from the breakup of Excalibur, trying to mesh back into the X-Men, and the murder of the British spy that she'd had an affair with........"

Rachel couldn't help but shake her head at that one. Kitty. Sweet, young, sorta frumpy, slightly nerdy, rather naive Kitty. The same one who mooned after Alistair Stuart when she was fifteen, but was much too shy to ever tell him she liked him. The girl Rachel had practically had to hog tie to get out of anything but baggy sweats and jeans and into something resembling normal, girls clothes.

The one who's heart had been broken all over again when Charlie, Scott, and Jean had talked her into luring Peter down to Muir from Avalon to treat his head injury. Who'd stood there in the rain and cried, watching him leave her again, with her whole heart in her eyes for everybody to see.

Rachel still wasn't sure she completely forgave everybody involved in that mess, and that most definitely included Peter.

Her innocent, optomistic, good-little-girl Kate. Having a wild affair with a shady British spy. Who was ten years or so older than her. And not a very nice person, either, even in spy terms. The very thought was simply beyond her comprehension.

When this was over, there would be explanations. Many, many explanations. Rachel was determined to get to the truth. Because this, surely, couldn't be it. Nate had never mentioned anything about British spies, especially in conjunction with Kitty.

Of course, she mused, her forehead wrinkling in thought, her time displaced, sort-of brother wasn't exactly the most informed, up-to-the-minute, source when it came to X-Men news, either. But, still. Kitty? Nope. No way.

".....then, we lose Scott and Moira......"

Her eyes met Rhane's - eyes almost the same shade of green as her own - across the table, sharing pain and sympathy in the loss of a parent. Though the Scott Summers of this time line wasn't technically her father, he'd been the closest thing that Rachel had and his loss still hurt. Deeply.

Of course, she didn't know Rhane well - still thinking of her as the shy little wolf-girl she'd known years ago and hardly able to relate her to the not-very-shy, poised, young woman sitting across from her now – but her heart went out to her all the same. No one should ever have to lose their mother, or anyone else for that matter, in such a horrible way.

"......and there's some kind of freak episode in the Danger Room during a sparring match between Betsy and Kitty that gives them glowing red eyes, causes them to try and shish-kabob one another, puts them both into a coma, and nearly kills them......"

Just when she'd thought things with the X-Men couldn't possibly get any stranger, just when Rachel had believed she'd seen pretty much all there was to see, heard all there was to hear, something like this conversation pops up and wham....some new and stranger event whacks her over the head. Lovely.

"......followed by some sort of break up between Kitty and Peter at a nightclub, though they haven't even dated in almost a decade, and he goes back to the mansion and tries to kill himself with the screwed up cure to the Legacy virus...."

And, again, we have the newest entry into the "Things Just Keep Getting Stranger and More Screwed Up" category. This place and the mansion are crammed full of technology that could bring a piece of dry toast to sentient life, but it can't manage to cure one, simple, retrovirus without killing somebody to do it? What is wrong with this picture?

".....which Kitty manages to arrive in time to prevent. After that, they both disappear for the rest of the night to who knows where. During which time they may or may not have patched things up...."

Oh, yeah. This was starting to sound very familiar. It was all coming back to her now. She began to remember all the dozens of reasons why she hadn't wanted the X-Men to know she was alive. Why she'd wanted to have a normal life as a normal college student without the daily descent into mutants, magic, and mayhem.

"......but, when he wakes up the next morning, Kitty's gone, along with a sample of the cure for the Legacy virus. Meanwhile, the Soulsword disappears from Limbo. Amanda, here, heads for Westchester and Kitty goes to the prison hospital where Mystique's being held, apparently intending to kill her with the Legacy cure....."

And, no, she hadn't missed the reference to Peter waking up the next morning to find Kitty gone, which was just one more item on her list that Rachel would be discussing with her friend when, and if, they ever found her. If she even recognized her. Based on what she was learning, Kitty had changed much.

"....Only, she can't do it and almost injects herself, instead. But, for reasons I can't even begin to fathom and don't even want to attempt to, Mystique stops her and uses the Legacy serum on herself, curing the virus, but ending her own life....."

Here, ladies and gentlemen, we have our next entry under the heading of "Will Wonders Never Cease". Who would have ever imagined that Raven Darkholme, after all she'd done, would, in the eleventh hour, suddenly grow a conscience? And actually do something noble for a change.

".....After which, Kitty takes off for Genosha, looking for her father, followed by Logan, Kurt and you...."

She motioned toward Amanda, who nodded a confirmation.

".....while Peter takes off for here, Muir Island, apparently to fulfill a request Kitty made, asking him to get out of the X-Men and pick up his life as the artist, Peter Nicholas....."

Well, she supposed that sort of made sense. About as much as any of this did. Rachel could understand Kitty, in her present state of mind, wanting Peter away from the X-Men, wanting him to do something that made him happy. And she could also understand her sending him here, to Muir Island and Rhane, because she didn't want to younger girl to be alone, either.

But all that brought her back to the question of just what, exactly, was going on between Peter and Kitty and was he just screwing with her again, planning to shatter her heart into a few more pieces later? For his sake, he'd better not be. Rachel had watched him hurt Kitty one too many times already. He wouldn't get away unscathed next time.

"......Meanwhile, most of the rest of the X-Men take off for....where ever....looking for the rest of Destiny's diaries....."

The time displaced young Phoenix stopped then to take a breath. It seemed the longer she talked, the stranger and stranger the whole story sounded. Strange even for the X-men, for whom strange is an extremely relative term.

".....Then, Kitty gets to Genosha, Logan runs into her and some guy who's trying to....what? Assault her? Attack her?......"

Which made absolutely no sense what so ever. Kitty was one of the best hand to hand fighters she knew. Even without her phasing power, she could handle herself against nearly anything thrown her way. And, if all else failed, she could always phase herself out of harms way.

However, if she believed what Logan had told Amanda, then this man hadn't been any ordinary man. He had disappeared into so much nothing when Wolverine went for him, and he'd apparently had some sort of hold over Kitty, or some power that prevented her from defending herself. The only question was, who the heck was he and what did he want?

And where, pray tell, could Phoenix get her hands on him?

Shaking her head, Rachel picked back up on her train of thought. That question would have to wait for another time. Maybe when they knew more than they did at the moment, whenever that might be, and when Amanda and Rhane weren't so obviously dead on their feet.

".....Logan manages to put the guy on the run, but Kitty won't let him help her. Says she's too far gone to the Soulsword. She disappears. He can't find her. The three of you get together, start gathering information, and decide that the problem lies with the Bloodstone Amulet, or Beatrice Amulet, or whatever you want to call it......"

Here we go back into the land of the strange and unexplainable. Rachel never had exactly understood the whole thing with Illyana, Kitty, the Soulsword, Limbo, and this amulet thing. And it didn't look as if it were suddenly all going to become clear now. Not without a lot of long, tiring explanations. She didn't think any of them were particularly up to that right now.

".....So, you three decide to go off in search of Kitty, to try to get the amulet away from her. Meanwhile, she's in the Presidential Palace with Magneto, who's had Lockheed for the last couple of months or so, nursing him back to health...."

Now that bit of information, strangely enough, didn't really surprise Rachel. Erik and Kitty had always gotten along well. Well, when they weren't trying to destroy one another, anyway. But, Magneto, in her opinion, had never really been an evil man. Or, he hadn't meant to be at least. And he would know how much Lockheed meant to the young girl. It was reasonable to believe that he would try to help if he could. He wasn't, after all, completely without compassion.

".....And, just as everybody's kind of all coming together in the same place, out of the blue a huge group of strange-looking Sentinels attack Genosha and all hell breaks loose. Everybody starts fighting for their life, Rhane and Peter show up....."

She nodded toward Rhane, who gave her a slight, tired smile in return. It was obvious that both her companions were exhausted and not in very good spirits. Not that Rachel blamed them. Her own mood had taken a decided downturn since her arrival a few hours ago.

".....that strange man appears out of nowhere again, grabs Kitty, who starts fighting him, trying to get away. But she can't, just like before. Then, out of nowhere, her father materializes in the middle of all this chaos, attacks the mysterious man....."

"His name was Vargas." Amanda put in absently, staring down into her stale cup of tea. "Or, at least, that's what he told Logan, just before he disappeared."

Rachel nodded, pondering the name, trying to decide if it held any familiarity at all, but she soon determined that it didn't. Whoever this man was, she'd never heard of, or met, him before. And he'd best hope their paths wouldn't cross at a later date. He might be able to hold off Kitty in some way, but she doubted very seriously that he could hold his own against the Phoenix.

".....Ok, so this Vargas hits Kitty's father, sending him careening into a batch of Sentinels, which results in his death...."

Here, Rachel had to stop for a minute, dropping her head into her hands to compose herself. Dear God, what Kitty must have gone through, watching her father killed like that. It was something no child should ever have to see happen to their parent. That, she knew from personal experience. Just one more reason this Vargas character was going to wish he'd never been born.

".....Then, things escalate. If that's actually possible. The Sentinels are overwhelming the fighters, Kitty is, understandably, hysterical, the robots that you'd thought you'd destroyed are reforming themselves, and it looks very much like everyone is going to die a terrible, horrible death. So, Kitty, not seeing any other way out, calls the Soulsword....."

It was this next part that was really giving Rachel trouble. Mainly because she just didn't understand how it could be possible.

".....and proceeds to turn every single funcitonal Sentinel in Genosha into so much dust and flakes of metal, then just simply disappears like she'd never been there in the first place. Is that about right?"

"Aye." Rhane stated flatly. "That would be about it."

Shaking her head in stark incomprehension, Rachel looked from one woman to another. "I don't see how that could even be concievable. That kind of power.....well.... I don't know of very many mutants who would be capable of something like that. You're talking manipulation of matter on a molecular level. Advanced, Omega level abilities. Probably Nate could, if he didn't have to put so much into fighting the T-O virus. Possibly David Haller. Mikhail Rasputin, definitely. Franklin Richards, if he were an adult. And myself, but only when I'm bonded with the Phonenix..."

"Well, you see," Amanda cut in, her head coming up as she leaned slightly forward in her chair. "that's just the thing. What we saw today looked like something that you, as the Phoneix, would do. Very, very much like it. Almost identical, in fact."

For a moment, Rachel just stared at the other woman uncomprehendingly. As the meaning behind the sorceress' words sunk in, however, the redhead blinked, taken aback, her bright green eyes going wide. No, that couldn't be right. What she was thinking couldn't be possible. Could it?

"Amanda, are you trying to tell me that Kitty has been possessed by a force the equivalent of the Phoenix?"

"That's exactly what I'm trying to tell you, and more...."

Thinking about the likelihood of such a thing, Rachel shook her head in firm denial. "No. That's not possible. As far as we've ever known – as far as anyone's ever known – there's never never any evidence of such a thing. The Phoenix is one of a kind. It blows my mind to think that there might be a second force that potent. The sheer amount of power......well, I really don't think you can imagine. And I also don't think you can imagine what it takes to control and contain something like that."

The strawberry blonde sorceress leveled her gaze at the young woman who was the destined and rightful host of the cosmic Phoenix entity, firm in her convictions and completely unwilling to back down.

"Well, you are right about one thing. I don't think that there's a second force as powerful as the Phoenix. Not at all. Actually, I think there's three of them. And I think you might be able to help us figure out who the other one is, if you're willing."

Sitting in the den of the neat little apartment, wearing a red, terry cloth, bath robe about two sizes too big for her, and sipping a cup of hot tea laced strongly with lemon and whiskey, Kitty stared blankly across the small space.

She looked like nothing so much as a lost little girl and, in a real sense, that's exactly what she was. So much had happened to her, so many life changing events in such quick succession - not the least of which had occurred this very day - that her companion wondered if she would ever really be the same again. If she would ever be able to regain the laughter, the carefree spark of life, that used to be such a prominent part of her personality.

Her eyes seemed to be fixated on the far wall, staring at the light blue painted surface as if it might hold all the answers she sought. She'd been sitting like that for the last hour or two, not speaking, just sipping her tea and staring at the wall, looking lost and shell shocked. It wasn't, her friend decided, a very good sign.

"Kitty, are you going to stare at that wall all night? Or do you plan on talking to me, so we can start figuring out what's going on? 'Cause I've got my own theories, but you're gonna have to help me out here. I know it's been a hell of a day, but I have the feeling that time's not on our side."

As if coming out of a trance, Kitty blinked, slowly turning toward the voice, wide brown eyes locking with those electric blue ones. God, those eyes brought back memories. Some of them, at least, good ones.

"Sorry, Romany. I don't mean to zone out on you. Still processing everything, I guess." Her voice was too flat, even to her own ears, devoid of emotion, devoid of anything. After the breakdown at Pete's grave, she'd realized she couldn't afford to feel anything. Not now. Not and keep any shred of her sanity.

"'S'ok. Don't worry about it, luv. I don't mean to push, but I just keep having this feeling of urgency, y'know? Like we're racing against a clock. I'd like to get started, if you feel up to it."

In truth, Romany Wisdom didn't really expect her guest to be up to much of anything, judging by the looks of her.

Kitty'd been a basket case when she'd found her kneeling at her little brother's grave. She'd never considered that the younger woman would be carrying around such guilt about the way her relationship with the older man had ended and his subsequent death on a mission with one of the many and various X-teams.

Romany never could remember which one it had been. X-Flock or X-Ferocious, or some such nonsense. They all seemed pretty much the same to her.

She'd been so worried about the young woman's emotional state at the time, that she hadn't even noticed the physical damage until they'd gotten back to her flat. Thankfully, it hadn't looked quite as bad once Kitty had gotten cleaned up, but it was still rather shocking.

Kitty was covered in cuts, bruises, and contusions, though none of them were particularly serious, and she didn't have any broken bones as far as Romany could tell. But she'd certainly been through a right good beating.

Aside from the minor damage to her body, her face looked the worst. There were bruises around her neck and one cheek, and she was sporting a lovely, purple and black bruise around one eye. Frankly, it looked like someone had beaten the hell out of her, which the native Londoner considered rather strange, considering what she knew of Kitty's powers and fighting skills.

Still, that was all secondary to the main task before them, whatever that might turn out to be. There was no way for her to know until she could get Kitty to talk to her.

As if her thoughts had reached the young woman curled up in the oversize armchair, Kitty finally spoke up again.

"You know, I haven't even asked how you found me, how you knew where I'd be." A somewhat sardonic grin curved her mouth as she cocked one eyebrow at the other woman. "I guess I could take it as coincidence, but, somehow, I doubt that's the case."

"And you'd be right." Romany affirmed with a soft laugh. "It weren't a coincidence. I've been on the lookout for you for a while now. Been to that bloody graveyard every day for the last week."

Her forehead wrinkled in confusion, Kitty tilted her head, brows knit together, as she shot her companion a quizzical look. "Why on earth...?"

"Quite simply because, for the last two weeks, every time I did a scrying or a reading, all I'd get was an image of you sitting in front of Pete's grave. Not exactly the most subtle hint I've ever received and I decided that, if it was that urgent, then I'd better make damn sure I didn't miss you."

Kitty started to shake her head, but the towel slipped abruptly and she had to grab for it to keep it from falling in her face. Not bothering to re-wrap it, she simply soaked as much moisture from her still damp locks as she could then laid the wet towel in her lap, returning her attention to Pete's older sister.

"In all honesty, Romany, I don't know why I didn't think of you before," she confessed. "Lately, I feel like there's things, simple things, that I should understand, that I should be catching onto, but I just can't seem to grasp them. It's almost like I'm walking around in a fog."

At this acknowledgment of her feelings, the raven haired woman nodded, her expression considering and serious. "I might have a theory or two on that. But, first, I really need you to tell me what's been going on, Kitty. It's the only way I'll be able to help you like I'm apparently meant to."

With a weary sigh, Kitty nodded. Of course, Romany was right. She needed to know the whole, sordid mess. But that wouldn't make the telling any easier. And she felt as if, for the last several weeks, all she'd done was wade through this crap over and over again, in one way or another.

Taking a deep breath, she began her tale, describing in short, halting, sometimes rather confused, sentences all the events that had taken place from the time the Soulsword started to appear to her again, shortly after Pete Wisdom's death, up until the events in Genosha that led her to be in that London graveyard where Romany had found her.

It wasn't easy. In fact, it was pretty much like reliving it all over again – and so much of it poked mercilessly at emotional wounds that were still so raw - but she tried not to hold anything back, at least nothing more than a few private details that wouldn't make any difference in the story one way or another.

Romany, for her part, was and exceptionally good listener, as she'd always been. She listened patiently, never interrupting her - watching Kitty interestedly with those electric blue eyes that were so identical to her brother's that it was almost uncanny - only nodding occasionally when Kitty would stop to make sure the other woman understood what she was trying to get across.

It seemed so strange to be sitting here, spilling her guts to a woman who should probably, by all rights, despise her. But Romany had made it clear that she held no hard feelings toward Kitty at all where Pete, or anything else, was concerned. And it had come as a huge relief to the younger woman.

In so many ways Romany and Pete were very alike. They both had that jet black hair – Romany's reaching well past her waist, as it had since the first time Kitty had met her - those intelligent, piercing, electric blue eyes, an incredibly keen and analytical intellect, and a rather dry, often irreverent, sense of humor.

But there were a lot of differences, too. Physically, as well as temperamentally.

Where Pete had been slim, almost to the point of being thin, and – if not short, then not particularly tall, either - Romany was of above average height for a woman, and solidly built, though by no means overweight. In another day and time, she would have been considered a handsome woman. Not beautiful, but certainly not ugly. Her looks fell more into a category of attractiveness that was outside the popularly perceived norm.

And, she was calmer than Pete, quieter, and not nearly as outwardly abrasive. Much more personable upon initial contact, and a great deal more open. Kitty had always gotten along very well with her and they'd exchanged cards and letters regularly, even after she and Pete broke up.

Which made it all the stranger that, not once during this whole thing - when she was wracking her brain trying to come up with someone well versed in the occult and the mystic arts who might be able to help her – had it occurred to her that Romany would be the perfect person to seek out.

Kitty doubted that even Amanda had the kind of esoteric, occult knowledge that Romany Wisdom possessed. Good grief, the first time they'd met had been while she and Pete were working on solving a series of crimes committed by a mutant serial killer. The case had involved a murderer who turned his victims to stone and wrote what had turned out to be a letter to God on their petrified remains in an ancient, supposedly magical, language.

Romany had been the one to come in and decipher all the writing, and to activate that...Man Stone skeleton thing they'd found in the river.

Even the thoughts of that decidedly horrible oddity still made her shudder in revulsion and the young X-Man wasn't exactly a person prone to a weak constitution. But, when you saw a fossilized human skeleton with a glowing red orb in it's chest sit up off the table and begin holding a conversation - offering to answer your questions and help you find things - it tended to make quite a lasting impression. Kitty was extremely thankful it wasn't an experience she'd ever had to repeat.

But, until today, over Genosha, after she'd called the sword and destroyed the Sentinels, it hadn't even crossed her mind that Romany might be able to shed some light on what was going on in her life. Now, she felt like a complete idiot for not seeing it before. It had been staring her in the face all this time and she'd never caught on. It just did not make any sense.

Then again, not much about this entire situation made any sense.

As she finished her tale, Kitty's voice trailed off and the two women fell into silence for a time, she staring down into the murky depths of her rapidly cooling tea as Romany seemed to ponder everything that she'd just heard. When the older woman finally spoke, it was calm, business like, her face and voice betraying no emotion as she studied Kitty speculatively.

"All right, there's a couple of things I need you to do, Kit." As Kitty raised her eyes, looking across the room at the other woman inquiringly, Romany continued. "First of all, I'd like to take a look at these diaries you mentioned, since they seem to be playing a pretty significant role in all this. Once I get a look at them, well see which step comes next."

Nodding, Kitty carefully set her cup down on the coffee table and rose, going into the spare room just down the hall where they'd put her things when they'd arrived. Picking up one of her duffle bags and hefting it up onto the bed, she unzipped it and rummaged around inside, pulling out her laptop, her own written notes, the six diaries she had, plus the copy of the one Storm's team had.

Her arms full, she carried the items back into the small den. They soon had the computer set up on a small, wooden, tray table, the diaries and notes lying on an end table nearby as Romany settled back to being going through what Kitty already had.

She began walking the older woman through her data program and notes - instructing her on how everything worked, no how all the notes were organized - but Romany laid a hand gently on her arm, giving it a light squeeze, stopping her in mid-sentence.

"Don't worry about it, Kitty. I can puzzle it out. Why don't you go lie down for a spell? I'll be a while at this and you look positively knackered."

Almost automatically, Kitty started to protest, but then she took a second to reconsider. She was exhausted. She hadn't slept at all the night before and very little for days before that. Regardless of whether she wanted to or not, her body would eventually have to have rest or she would simply collapse. Already she felt drained, empty. She couldn't continue on as she was now.

With a somewhat reluctant nod, she gave in to the inevitable. "All right. I'll probably just have more dreams and nightmares, but I've got to sleep sometime. If you need anything, wake me, ok?"

Romany nodded absently, already absorbed in her work, as she made a shooing motion with her hand in Kitty's direction. With a weak grin, the slim brunette left her to it and headed back to the guest bedroom where she'd been only a few moments before.

Placing the duffle bag back on the floor with it's mate, she shed her robe, not even bothering with a nightshirt, and crawled under the covers.

Snuggling down into the soft mattress and cool sheets, Kitty closed her eyes and let her mind drift, clearing all thoughts from her head as she put herself into a light meditative state. It was a trick she'd learned long ago - from Logan, of course - to force herself to relax and sleep, even when she was too worried, or too hyped up, to do so otherwise.

Much more tired than she'd allowed herself to realize, it was only a few moments before her breathing became shallow and even and she not so much fell, as collapsed into sleep. The last conscious image that flashed through her mind was Peter's face, his words from only a few nights past echoing softly in her head. But it seemed like so much longer. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

But promise me, if you need me, for anything, you will let me know.

Oh, God, Peter.....you have no idea how much I need you right now......but I can't bring you into this. No matter how much I want you with me. But I miss you. I miss you so much.

As consciousness finally left Kitty completely, another presence took physical form within the room. Sheathed in it's aura of incadescent light, the Soulsword hovered in the air, pulsing with power, as it considered the young woman it was bound to and decided that, if she were going to be able to finish this, then she was going to need all the help she could get. Though she was stubborn and would try to do it all alone, she couldn't. It was time to speed up the process a little.

Yes, the Soulsword could think, it could reason. It was sentient entity, a self-aware force, disembodied though it might be. Just as the others were. There would come a time when that would no longer be true, if things went as they should. But, for now, it was still a separate being, and an intelligent one.

But limits had been placed upon it's ability to communicate and it was bound by certain rules. There were things it could not do, was not allowed to do. Those restrictions were proving extremely inconvenient, to say the least.

It could not call out to the others, nor could they call to it. If they managed to come together, then the hosts would have to accomplish that largely on their own. It could not communicate with anyone other than whomever it was connected to. And, even then, the information it could pass was severely limited.

But, recently it had come to believe that it had found a loophole, albeit a small one, within the structures which bound it so tightly. One small access point had been overlooked, one small connection that wasn't considered fully when this all began, and that slight advantage might be the avenue with which to provide exactly the catalyst needed to start a chain reaction.

Perhaps now was the time to test the theory. If only it worked, it might make all the difference in the world. And it would be a move that Vargas could never predict.

Then again, it might not work at all. It could only try.

Hunting down and destroying Sentinels was, at any time, an extremely dangerous activity. Under the best of circumstances, it was something attempted by only the most powerful, and the most experienced, of fighters. After all, mutant powers were of extremely limited use against machines designed to specifically counteract those powers and destroy the mutants that possessed them. And the "Wild" Sentinels, such as those that had wrought havoc on Hammer Bay, were of a particularly vicious, hard to kill variety.

So, it was a supreme act of stupidity to track and engage said Sentinels in pitch dark, in the middle of the thick, tangled jungles of Ecuador.

Piotr Nikolevitch Rasputin, a member of the X-Men for very nearly half his life, knew this. He knew that to attempt such a thing was the height of recklessness and was also tantamount to signing one's own death warrant.

Right now, he couldn't possibly care less.

The last of the group of five Wild Sentinels he'd tracked lumbered out of the brush to his right, spouting the normal, monotonous line of "Non-human entity determined. Execute". And that phrase was truly beginning to grate on Peter's very last existing nerve.

As it raised it's....hand?....claw?....pinscher?....What was that appendage supposed to be, anyway?.....the repulsor ray glowing as it charged up and prepared to fire at him, Colossus muttered a rather explicit Russian curse at the thing and charged into it, full speed ahead.

He slammed into the torso with the force of a two ton pile driver, knocking it off it's feet and scattering a few odd and end pieces across the jungle floor as he tore into the offending robot.

In his armored form, as he was now, Colossus was nearly seven and a half feet tall and weighed well over five hundred pounds. He could bench press a Buick without even breaking a sweat. He could level entire buildings with little more than a single blow. He was almost unstoppable and very nearly invulnerable. There was so much that he could do with the power that had been at his disposal since he was an adolescent.

But, the one thing he couldn't do, despite all his strength, despite all his power, was hold onto the woman he loved. No matter how much he might want to help her in this journey through hell, both figuratively and literally, there was nothing he could do. And that made him very, very angry.

Peter took great pleasure in methodically ripping the crab-like Sentinel into small bits and pieces with his bare hands, scattering the various parts around the jungle floor without heed. He'd done the same to this one's brethren before it, and he would do the same to however many more he might be able to track down after it.

And he would keep doing it until one of them finally adapted enough to kill him or he collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Right at the moment, it mattered not in the least which might come first.

With a snarl of rage the likes of which had graced the young mans face only on the rarest of occasions, he tore the robot's head from it's body and proceeded to rend it in half, then each piece in half again, until the pieces were so small they couldn't be torn any more. With that accomplished, the headless machine flailed about aimlessly as he ripped into it's torso, pulling out wires, circuit's, whatever was handy that he could get his hands on, repeating the procedure of utter annihilation on whatever he could reach. If he couldn't take his anger and frustration out on the source, these things would suffice for the moment.

The sound of the blast reached Colossus' ears several moments after he was nearly thrown to the ground by the sheer, concussive force of the hit. Only a few feet away, a 30 ft tall Sentinel landed with a resounding thud and a "squark" of protest, face down on the jungle floor, sending up a shower of sparks and soil in it's wake as it crackled and fizzed, flailing about for a moment before going permanent still.

The smell of burning wires and electronic circuitry, mixing in with the rich smell of torn earth and vegetation, assailed him only seconds before he felt the electrostatic crackle of energy and the second massive bolt of lightning slammed down on his other side, barely three feet away. The second Sentinel, whose presence he'd also been unaware of, and which was only slightly smaller than the first, literally exploded on impact, raining burning wires and smoking metal down around him and igniting small, short lived fires in the verdant vegetation.

Quickly surging to his feet, Peter didn't even bother to look up to see where the sudden, otherworldly bolts of energy had come from. The sky was perfectly clear – not even the slightest sign of thunderclouds or adverse weather - and, besides, lightening strikes of that magnitude rarely, if ever, happened in nature. And almost never that close together.

No, he knew perfectly well who the responsible party was. And he knew why she was here. So, he simply stood, waiting, until Storm drifted out of the sky to land lightly in front of him.

She was angry. Very angry. Furious, actually. He could see it in the frenzied corona of energy coruscating around her, in the way her eyes – glowing white now as she wielded her power over nature – flashed sparks in his direction, in the set of her jaw and her ram-rod straight posture. Right now, there was nothing there of Ororo, she was every inch Storm.

The two mutants regarded one another in silence for long moments before the regal, imposing African woman strode purposefully forward to stand toe to toe with him, in no way intimidated by either his greater size or strength. Glaring up at him, her eyes narrowed dangerously as she placed her fist on her hips, her feet spread apart, her entire stance screaming blind, blazing, fury.

"Piotr Nikolevitch Rasputin," Ororo Munroe spat his name out like a curse, her the words hissed through clenched teeth as she sought to restrain the urge to summon the most massive bolt of lightning she possibly could and put him right back on the ground on his ass. Perhaps that would knock some much needed sense into him. "have you always been an imbecile and I simply did not notice until now? Or, have you suddenly developed a need to explore your inner idiot?"

Near his own breaking point, Peter's considerable temper, already present and accounted for, flared up another notch and Colossus glared back down at her just as angrily. "Storm, now is not the time. Go back to Genosha, before we both say or do something we will regret later."

Turning his back to her, he prepared to walk away, only to have her grab his arm in a surprisingly strong grip.

"You will not walk away from me, Peter. If you do, so help me, I will hit you with a bolt of lighting strong enough to render you unconscious for at least a week. In fact, I am already sorely tempted to do just exactly that. You are behaving like a child."

Shrugging out of her grip, the large man whirled around, towering over her menacingly. "Suit yourself, then, Wind Rider. But I came here for a purpose. One with which you are interfering. I thank you for your assistance, but I would rather do this alone. Now leave me be."

"Assistance?" The wind-rider's voice rose a notch and, overhead, thunder boomed out loud enough to shake the ground as the wind suddenly picked up to nearly gale strength. "Bright Lady, preserve me from stupid, stubborn men...." Though she was, she thought, inevitability surrounded by them.

Raising her face to the sky and closing her eyes, Ororo fought for control of both her emotions and the elements around her. One was inevitably affected by the other and if she didn't calm down, the entire area would soon be engulfed in a hurricane force gale. And she couldn't, in good conscience, punish the surrounding populace simply because this one young man was behaving like a lunatic.

Once she felt sufficiently capable to do so without flying into a screaming rage, she turned back to her long-time friend and took a deep, calming breath, trying to maintain an even, reasonable tone of voice.

"I have no idea what you believe you are doing out here, Peter.....other than perhaps committing suicide...." As the words left her mouth, it was as if a light suddenly went on inside her head, breaking through the anger and turning it to concern as her voice trailed off. Abruptly, Storm's face softened, her eyes reverting back to their normal ice blue, her stance relaxing as she looked up at the young man who had been the closest thing she'd had to a brother for the last fourteen years.

"Is that what you want, Peter? Is that what you believe that Kitty would want? For you to destroy yourself? Because, that is exactly what you are doing. Had I not found you when I did, you would have most certainly been injured, possibly killed. Those two Sentinels were standing almost on top of you, and you did not even notice. And I doubt very seriously that they were particularly quiet or stealthy in their approach. It is not like you, little brother, to be so careless."

"What does it matter, Ororo?" he asked, his voice filled with bitterness and grim, sorrowful resignation. "What is there left for me, now? She is gone because of these machines and I mean to destroy as many of them as I possibly can. If it is at the cost of my own life, so be it. Now, please, leave me."

Again, the big man turned to go, but he only made a few steps before Storm gave into her previous inclination and sent him slamming into the ground with a well placed, proverbial, bolt from the blue. Slightly dazed, Peter sat there, trying to shake off the effects of the sudden, rather disconcerting electrical overload.

When his head finally cleared, he looked up to find Ororo standing over him, as angry as he'd ever seen her in his entire life – and as frightened.

"Do you think you are the only one who loves her? Do you truly believe that the rest of us are not grieving, just as much as you are? That girl was like my own daughter. I damaged that relationship through my own selfish, stupid decisions and it has never been fully repaired. Now, I must live with the fact that it very well may never be, because I may never see her again."

She was furious; furious at Peter for seemingly believing that he had sole rights to grieve for the all too possible loss of a girl...a woman...that they all loved dearly; furious at herself for not making more of an effort to mend her relationship with Kitty when she had the chance; furious that she – that they – hadn't all been more observant, taken more of an active interest in the problems plaguing Kitty of late. Frankly, she was at her own breaking point. And Peter, at the moment, was pushing her past that point very quickly.

"Logan, Kurt, Amanda, Rhane, myself, Betsy, Rogue, Remy, Bobby.....all of us care about her, very deeply. Just as we care about you, Peter. And you are doing the very same thing that Kitty did. You are pushing us away, refusing the support and love of your family, just as she did. You expect us to sit back while you run off with the jet, fly out here and fight these Sentinels by yourself, in the dark, knowing full well that they may very well kill you in the process? Well, it is not going to happen. I refuse to lose you as well. And there is still hope for Kitty. We do not know...."

"I know." Peter cut in, his words holding an unshakable finality. Looking up at her, even in his changeform, Ororo could plainly see the grief, the almost overwhelming pain, eating away at him. And the heavy weight of resignation and acceptance of the inevitable, sitting on his heart like a stone.

"I have listened to Amanda and her theories concerning the Amulet and the Soulsword. And the bond between Illyana and Katya. I cannot argue that some of what she says makes sense. But I have also lived through this before. I lost my sister to this evil. I saw what it did to her, how it corrupted her, little by little, watched as her humanity slipped away from her day by day. I saw the same thing happening to Kitty, but I did not recognize it in time. Nor, would she allow me to help her when I did. Regardless of what Amanda may believe, I know that it is over. She is gone and there is nothing we can do to bring her back."

Saying it all out loud, actually hearing the words, seemed to make it all the more real. All the more final and irrevocable. In a moment, all the anger, all the rage, drained out of him, leaving him hollow, empty, and lost. Suddenly, inexpressibly weary, Peter allowed himself to transform from metal back into flesh and blood. His broad shoulders drooping, he let his head hang down, closing his eyes as he fought the urge to simply lie down and wait for the next Sentinel that might pass by.

How was he supposed to get through this? How was he supposed to weather yet another loss in his life? He had no family left. They were all long gone. He had hoped to have the chance to make a family for himself again, but all hope of that was gone now as well. His heart was as broken as it could possibly be, damaged beyond repair. What use was there in pretending there was anything left for him.

A slim, soft hand cupped his chin, skin the color of café-au-lait, as Ororo knelt in front of him. Her eyes were blue again, with their exotic, elongated iris', like those of a cat, as she peered down at him. Without actually raising his head, he looked up at her through his dark lashes, meeting her gaze.

"She is not dead, Peter." she told him softly.

"Perhaps it would be better if she were." he replied, speaking so quietly that she could barely hear him over the night noises of the surrounding jungle. It was obvious that he was overwhelmed by all that was happening. And just as obvious that he was at the point of giving in, of accepting that things would not get better, that Kitty was lost to them for good.

"No," With a slight shake of her head, the motion barely even rustling the mane of silver hair falling around her shoulders and back, Storm dismissed the idea. "I will not believe that. And neither should you. By now you should know that anything is possible, that we can prevail, no matter the odds. We have done it time and time again. I see no reason we cannot do it this time. We owe it to Kitty to at least try."

Ororo waited, wondering if her words would have any effect on him at all, wondering if there was anything that she could say to him, after all that he had endured, that would restore even an iota of hope for him to hold onto. She understood fully exactly how difficult it was to hold onto that hope in the face of such odds. It was something she struggled with herself. But she was determined not to give up. It wasn't in her nature. She was sincerely hoping that it wasn't in Peter's either.

Finally, the young Russian raised his head, his dark blue eyes searching her own, searching her face, looking for something, anything, to grab onto, to give him a reason to continue on. He found it in her solid, unwavering faith, in her conviction that all was not lost, that there still was hope for a resolution. That Kitty might return to them, whole, unharmed, herself. Perhaps, if she could believe, then he could as well.

With a sigh, he nodded, and she stood, holding out her hand to him. He took it, levering himself up into a standing position as they faced one another.

"I am not so optomistic as you, Ororo. Perhaps it is my Russian heritage that tends toward brooding...I do not know. But, I hope, I pray, that you are right."

"I have faith that I am, indeed, right," his long-time friend told him, her lips curving the slightest bit at the corners as she slid her arm around his waist, leading him back toward the jet he had arrived in. "Besides, you do not know everything, yet. Come. On our return trip, I will tell you what I learned when I left Sage at Muir Island. We are not, it seems, the only ones searching for Kitty. They have had a rather surprising visitor today......."

He was in pain. That, in itself, would not have been a terribly unusual thing for most people. For him, however, it was almost unheard of. He couldn't even remember the last time someone had managed to actually, physically, injure him.

But, he had allowed himself to be caught by surprise, something else that hadn't happened to him in untold ages. He hadn't known of, or planned for, the interference of that cursed metal warrior. He'd believed him to be safely away, separated from the girl.

Now, because of his own lack of preparation, the girl had called the sword, had merged with it, before he could bind her to him. It was a setback, but it was not the end. Time was on his side. There was no hope of her connecting with the others. They were long gone, beyond her reach. She had, once again, foolishly left the one person who might have been able to protect her.

And, there was, of course, still the Amulet to consider. It still held influence over her, influence that he could use to his advantage. The sword would be his, one way or another, before this thing ended. Time was growing shorter with each passing day, and soon they would reach the end of this saga begun so very long ago.

At last, he would be free and, with the help of the Soulsword and the Beatrice Amulet, he would attain the dream that he'd worked toward for so very long. Not only would this world be his, but every other world in existence as well. And the girl could make her choice, join with him freely and rule by his side, or have her soul consigned forever to torment as he destroyed every one and everything that she held dear.

Vargas turned from the wide, picture window and the sprawling view of the city below, wincing at the sudden movement that pulled at his bruised, cracked ribs. Irritated with himself at this show of weakness, he pushed the pain from his mind, forcing it back into a dark corner, where it would trouble him no more. For the moment.

As always, his servants stood only a few feet away, attentive and alert, ready to receive and obey his orders at a moment's notice. Scrutinizing them, Vargas decided that he liked them much better in these guises, much as he liked himself much better in his own. The horrific had it's purpose and it had often served him well, but he much preferred the pleasing, the beautiful, whenever possible. It made walking in this world, among these cattle, much easier.

Inevitably, thoughts of beauty brought him, once again, to the books. Picking up the correct volume, he thumbed through it, easily finding the familiar page, one he had spent long hours studying, committing to memory.

And, there they were, their youth, beauty, and innocence preserved on the page, their faces exactly as they had been so very long ago. They had tried so very hard to do what had been required of them, but they had failed. That failure had cost them their souls, had condemned them to an eternity of trying to correct those mistakes.

Such a waste, he mused, his index finger trailing over the page, tracing the curve of a damask cheek, the sweep of a delicate brow. To sacrifice such youth, such beauty, such potential, to a fight they had no hope of winning. To fight so long and hard, only to be defeated in the final hour. And what has their sacrifice earned them? Their tale, their very existence, is lost to time, remembered only in vague legends and myths of civilizations long dead, dismissed as whimsical tales to amuse the ignorant.

Closing the book once more, he returned his attention to his servants, smiling in wicked enjoyment once more at their forms. Tall, strong, human, male and female. It suited them, though he knew they were less than pleased with the results themselves. But their feelings did not concern him in the least. They were here to serve him, nothing more.

"Begin the preparations. In a few days, when I am fully healed, we will commence the final chapter in this long odyssey. And, at long last, with the wielder of the sword by my side and the power of the Nexxus at my command, we will ascend to the glorious destiny that awaits us."

With silent, almost identical bows, Thais and Thaiis – for those were their names now, for the present – turned and strode away toward the doors leading to the villa's lower levels and the tasks that awaited them there.

As soon as they were out of sight, Vargas once again picked up the diary he'd been thumbing through before, taking it to a large, overstuffed easy chair, upholstered in butter soft tan leather. Lowering himself gingerly into the seat, the strange man again leafed through the pages, light from the large picture window behind him providing more than ample illumination as the sun streamed in and the city of Valencia spread out toward the horizon.

A/N: Well, there it is. Hope it wasn't too disappointing. The next couple of chapters will probably be rather similar as there's a lot of stuff that needs doing to set the stage for the next major confrontation. Gradually, we'll be getting all our major characters in the same place at the same time for the final battle. And, for any of you who are not familiar with Romany Wisdom (which wouldn't be surprising, since she's only made a grand total of two or three appearances in the comics) she is Pete's older sister and she is very well versed in all things occult, but one particular area of expertise was of special interest to me, which is why I really wanted to use her in this fic. You'll understand more fully as things progress.

To All My Wonderful, Incredible Reviewers: I've really got to thank all you guys again for hanging in there with me. If you hadn't, I probably would have dropped the whole thing in absolute disgust and frustration with this chapter. Thanks again.

B: Well, I hope that was a good "oh". ;) And not a 'what the crap??' "oh".

Brainfear: Eh, torture around here is never short lived, but things will get better. Eventually. Hopefully, within the next couple of chapters, we'll be getting our two favorite victims back in the same place permanently.

T.A. Pixiestix: (ducks flying projectiles) I truly apologize for the deception, but, as you know by now, that wasn't Pete. For the purposes of this fic, as far as our characters know anyway, Pete is dead. I already have an outline for a sequel, if I live through this one, where that may change. But, I'm afraid he won't be showing up in this one. I rather like the annoying sod, too, but I just couldn't find a place for him in this story. In the comics, it is debatable whether he's still alive or not, but everyone there still thinks he's dead. There is some reason to believe that he didn't actually die, though. On the up side, thought we didn't see Logan in this chapter, we did get a little time with Piotr.

Gypsy: Glad you liked the Illyana/Rachel come backs. I've had those particular scenes planned from the beginning and I rather liked how they turned out. Rachel Summers and Illyana Rasputin are particular favorites of mine and I'm glad to see that Marvel has finally decided to bring at least one of them back into the X-Men full time. They truly do have a lot of potential.

I Heart the Distillers (aka Evanescence Kicks Ass): There you are! I'd wondered what had happened to you. Missed ya and I'm glad you're back. I completely sympathize with your computer problems. I have become convinced that Microsoft and Windows are actually evil plots by Sinister to take over the world. Really glad you enjoyed the chapter, especially the return of two of my favorite characters and the little scene at Pete's grave. By now, you all know that was Pete's older sister, Romany. Who is another very interesting character and one very versed in all things strange and occult. And it just warms heart any time I can have somebody give Emma Frost a good whack.

Kirayoshi: Yes. I admit it. I do like to make Kitty cry. I just can't help it. Didn't quite get to Master Mold this time, but our favorite angry Russian managed to trash a few more Sentinels. We'll get to Master Mold in the next chapter or so. As you've seen, Illyana doesn't quite know what to make of Gambit, Rogue and this whole situation, just as Rachel is reeling from everything that she's learned. We've got to give them a little time to sort things out. This is most definitely the calm before the storm. I did change the ending of this chapter, yet again, from my last intent. That scene will have to wait another chapter or so. Much as I wanted to do it now, it just didn't work.

Darkstorm5000: Glad you enjoyed chapter 17. Illyana probably would have done some truly horrible things to Emma if Gambit and Rogue hadn't showed up when they did. I loved Rachel and Illyana and, given their close ties to Kitty, I just had to use them in this. I've probably finished resurrecting the dead, now, but there are still a few surprises up my sleeve before this is all done. Glad you liked the chapter length. The next several are probably going to be similar. Mainly because I've got so much stuff to research for each one now. Fun.

Lia Fail: Glad you like the reappearance of Rachel and Illyana. I definitely share the Yana love and I believe that she's one of the few "dead" Marvel characters that could be brought back in a truly believable way. And I had to have somebody hit Emma. It was just a compulsion. I had to be done. UXM 303 always makes me cry, too. As does 304. Illyana now knows, of course, that she's not in the wrong dimension. But, she's not sure if that might not be even worse. Didn't really mean to make you cry, but, since you keep doing it to me, I figured it's a trade off. ;)

Wordmad: Thanks for lurking and I'm glad you're enjoying the fic. I'm enjoying writing it, for the most part. Even if it does put up a real fight on occasion. Just makes things more interesting. We will have resolution, eventually, but I tend to make our heroes really work for it. Hopefully, when it comes, though, it'll have been worth the wait.

RandomReader: Hey, I'm right there in dork land with you, because I was tearing up while I was writing it. I cry regularly over fictional comic characters. And, trust me, there are others out there, too. We're in good company. And, by now, you also know that we will not be dealing with Pete in this story. Just a relative and some memories. He's a fun guy, but just didn't have anywhere to put him in here. It's good to get a few of Kitty's "dead" friends back into the mix and I'm really looking forward to putting them all together again. They'll be much happier that way.

Revenaught: Now, really....do you think I'd seriously kill off everybody's favorite dragon? But, without that, how else would I get that nice Magneto moment into the fic? Besides, what's Kitty without Lockheed? Peter will get more than one chance to be that Guardian Warrior you spoke of. He's already taking out his frustration on several hapless Sentinels. We should get to the major Master Mold battle within the next couple of chapters. Hope you continue to enjoy the fic. Kitty and Peter have been my favorites for over 20 years as well and I'm glad to know there are so many other fans out there, too.

Coming Soon: Chapter 19. We'll learn a little more about Destiny's Diaries, the Beatrice Amulet, Vargas and all these connections. We'll be seeing a little more of the mystery revealed in the form of dreams. And they'll be targeting more than just Kitty this time. Hope to see you there.