Episode X: Savage Land, Strange Heart

At last, the only human-mutant community on the face of the Earth had been rebuilt. The inhabitants of Avalon cheerfully celebrated the ocassion, drinking beer and partying. It had been long since any of them had anything to celebrate. As the night grew older, and the residents grew 'happier', their party was rudely interrupted by the image of a gigantic firebird in the sky.

"Oh my..." said Juggernaut surprised, slowly rising from her chair.

"Avalon defense squad... move!" said Damask, running towards the place where the bird landed.

Juggernaut quickly followed her, and so did a young telekinetic man, flying a bit erratically, a man who instantly grew 25 feet high and two humans with guns.

The search party soon found their quarry. Graydon Creed lifted his guns and pointed at the arrivals. "Hold still. You move and you're dead."

Storm held Betsy's body, who had fainted as soon as they landed. Dazzler clutched Exodus and Sunfire had Lila in his arms, while Magik helped Jamie stand up and Pietro remained in the ground, cursing his unmoving legs, with Lockheed hovering before him. They were, by no means, in any condition to fight.

"We do not wish you harm. We are..." said Storm, but she was stopped by Damask's voice's she moved forward through the dense vegetation. "X-Men. Long time no see."

"You!" Ororo's eyes flashed with fury. "You work for Apocalypse!"

"Not anymore. Lower your guns Creed, you too Jones." said Damask waving her hands.

"They are mutants, dangerous mutants." said Creed not lowering his guns.

"So are we..." said Juggernaut moving towards the X-Men, offering Pietro a hand. "Come with us, all lifeforms are welcome here."

Pietro took her hand and she lifted him. "Follow us." said the incredible strong woman, returning to the jungle. Avanlon's defenders followed her, and, one by one, so did the X-Men.

"Hi... I'm Vance... need help?" said the young telekinetic smiling at Magik.

"Sure." she replied

"Demonchild is my friend." said Jamie as Vance Astrovik used his telekinesis to levitate him. The giant helped Dazzler, offering to take Exodus and introducing himself as Scott Wright.

After a short walk, they X-Men got their first glimpse of Avalon.

"X-Men. Welcome to Avalon." said Damask

"This globetrotting has got to stop..." said Dazzler, negating with her head slightly as they watched the village and the strange land behind it.

"The rumours are true then..." said Storm looking intently."...humans and mutants living together. The very embodiment of Magneto's dream."

"True and real... enough to turn someone like me from the dark side..." smiled Damask.

"Virgen Maria... Storm!" said Cecilia Reyes lunging forward. She hugged a very surprised Storm. "It has been too long since Wundagore." said the Doctor. "hey Pietro!" she waved at him

"Cecilia! What... what are you doing here?" Storm asked

"When I left Magneto's school I came here, helped found the place with Destiny and all." said Cecilia smiling

"This isn't the time for a Magneto alumnae reunion." said Pietro. "Three of our number are unconscious and we don't know what truly ails them."

"Don't worry, I'll sort them out." replied Cecilia."Giant-Man, grab all of them and take them to the hospital."

"I'll carry her..." said Sunfire, not allowing to removed Lila from his arms.

Ororo willingly gave Betsy to Giant-Man, who covered the distance to the recently built hospital in seconds. Storm flew behind him, carrying Cecilia in her arms, while Sunfire walked behind them carrying Lila.

"You're Magneto's son, right?" asked Damask

"Yes. Magneto... Magneto was my father." replied Pietro, absent-minded as he watched the departing contingent, unmoving in Juggernaut's arms.

"You think they'll be alright?" asked Dazzler

"Of course. Doc Reyes is the best." replied Vance smiling.

"Come, you must be tired and hungry..." said Juggernaut, leading them towards a table. "And we gotta introduce you guys around, you X-Men are heroes!"

As the morning arrived, both Phoenix and Lila Cheney awakened, her diagnostic was mere exhaustation, after exceeding themselves in the use of their powers. Exodus' condition, however, was different. According to Damask, he had no psionic energy left, it was as if his powers had abandoned him, perhaps siphoned by Rasputin's spell, seemingly utterly spent. Dr Reyes had examined him and physically he was in perfect shape, and it was a matter of time for him to awaken.

The X-Men, at Juggernaut's request, made themselves at home. They were given huts and introduced to everyone, and soon they found themselves scattered amidst Avalon.

"Is it true? You were seven years old yesterday?" asked Vance Astrovik, his enthusiasm clear on his eyes.

"Well..." said Illyana biting an apple and leaning backwards where she sat. "...technically yes, but for me, that yesterday happened eight years ago."

"Weird. How does that feel?" he asked, as if hypnotized at her apple eating ability

"Dunno. I don't remember everything that happened in Limbo... except the spells... all I remember is the magic..." she said, creating a green flame in her hand, and suddenly making it dissapear.

Quicksilver made his way through a pack of small children. They all wanted to see the son of Magneto. He felt quite annoyed, but he managed to smile at them as he moved towards the hospital hut. He knocked and Elisabeth Braddock opened the door.

"You're ok." he smiled

"Yes... Doc gave me the all clear seconds ago. She's checking Lila now, and I asked to look at Jamie just in case, though he seems normal." she said allowing him to enter, positioning behind him and moving his chair forward.

"So... what's with this Phoenix thing?" he asked.

"I wish I knew..." she replied vaguely.

"Beautiful place you've got here." said Sunfire, admiring the village. "How big is that jungle?"

"Don't know... I haven't been here for long, and my time was mostly spent fighting evil dudes and then rebuilding..." said Juggernaut "But I've asked and people say no one ever left the village's limits."

"Why not?" he asked, looking at her

"Frightened I guess. At night, sometimes, weird noised can be heard. Plus we've seen some weird looking lizards. Vance claims they're dinosaurs, so everyone's afraid of the possibility of big dinos..." she said.

"Maybe we should check things out. What if there are demons, or Sentinels, or whatever? I should tell Storm about it." he replied, placing a hand in his chin

"What, you need to run to mama? Scared of going there yourself?" asked Graydon Creed, moving towards them

"Scared? You jest?" said Sunfire frowning

"Let's go then. Let's go explore the jungle." grinned Creed.

"Fine by me..." Shiro replied. "Just don't take too long walking behind." he said, and his body bursted into flames and he flew towards the jungle.

"You know Creed, you can be a royal pain in the ass sometimes..." said Juggernaut, walking behind Sunfire. "Hey Shiro! Wait up!"

Graydon Creed frowned and then followed the mutants.

It wasn't near as cold as she wanted it to be. Ororo Munroe dived once more, the lake's water touching her every pore. She took pleasure in her dive, retarding her return to the surface. She felt at home in the water, as much as she felt at home in the air. Ororo continued to dive and swim, allowing her mind not to think. For the first time in ages, she felt free. This land was perfect in every conceivable way. Unfortunately, Ororo was unaware that two sets of eyes followed her every move, inspecting every inch of her body. She relaxed her senses, swimming to shore and resting, opening her eyes to see the sky above. "Goddess... this... is too perfect for words."

"You're not so bad yourself." said a voice.

Startled, Ororo sat, watching a saber-toothed tiger behind her. "By the Goddess!" she said surprised.

"Zabu won't harm you." the same voice spoke. "Nor will I..." a man with long blonde hair, dressed only with a ragged cloth tied to his waist, jumped down from a tree. "I would never harm anyone so beautiful." he smiled, petting the tiger.

Ororo blushed a little as the man crouched next to his tiger, right in front of her. "I... I'm Ororo. She said, extending her hand."

The man looked at her hand, unsure how to respond. "Ka-Zar is my name, or so they call me here, in the Savage Land. Why are you extending your hand like that?" he asked, watching it curiously.

"It's a greeting." she giggled. She had never giggled before. "Put your hand next to mine. There you go, now we grab hands, and shake." she explained. "How is it you don't know it?" she asked, after his comprehension.

"We do not greet people like that here. We do this..." he said, placing his hand at shoulder level and then moving it in a clockwise arc above his head. Ororo imitated him.

"You're not from Avalon?" she asked, after a few seconds of silence. "The village down the path?"

"No. I... was raised deep in the jungle. But I was born in the outside world. I remember that." he replied, petting Zabu again. "You're from out there too, right?"

"Yes." she answered simply. "Is... is he dangerous?" she asked, looking at Zabu.

Ka-Zar laughed. "Of course, but he won't harm you, I told you... go on... pet him."

Ororo hesitated for a second, and then, very slowly, petted Zabu's head. And then they heard it. A loud noise coming their way. Zabu's ears rose and Ka-Zar extended his limbs, mucho like a gorilla. He said words in a language Storm did not know and Zabu ran fast towards the jungle.

Ka-Zar moved swiftly and kissed Ororo's lips passionately. "We'll meet again." he said and then he ran after Zabu at great speed.

Ororo placed a hand on her lips, looking towards his direction. Her hearth thumped greatly. She had not felt like that in ages.

"Oh... Ms Munroe... are we... are we interrupting?" asked Juggernaut, moving a couple of trees to access. At the sight of Ororo's naked body she looked up. Behind her, Ororo could see Sunfire and Creed, whose eyes were wide open and was grinning.

"No. I was... just... resting." she said, trying hard not to smile, covering her body with her arms, still sitting.

"We are going to explore the jungle a bit." sid Sunfire. "Wanna join us?"

Ororo looked at the jungle, where Ka-Zar had run to. "Yes... we... let's go a bit further inside. " she said, standin up. A bolt of lighning fell from the skies, enveloping her body, and soon her costume appeared as if from out of nowhere.

"Are you ok?" asked Sunfire, placing a hand on her shoulder.

"Yes... just a bit... startled." she replied with a smile. And then the small group began examining the area.

Hours turned into days, and days turned into weeks, and the X-Men relaxed at last, becoming a part of Avalon. Helping its residents in the most varied ways. Exploring the land, keeping dinosaurs at bay, helping with the crops, living as free people.

Paris Bennet sat atop a cliff, watching the sunset, as Dazzler arrived, carrying two coffee mugs.

"Beautiful view." she said, sitting next to him, handing him a mug.

"Yeah... that Magneto statue looks great..." he said, poiting down at the valley. A gigantic statue of Magneto was in the works. A blind human sculptress by the name of Alicia Masters worked on it as they spoke.

"I wasn't talking about it, but sure, it does look great." she said, sipping her coffee. "So... how are you?"

Paris smiled. "Free." he responded simply. "Without... without my powers, I mean, ever since I've lost them... I feel free?"

"Free in what way?" she asked. "You look awfully calm... we all feared you'd go crazy or something..."

"I feel free in every imaginable way. Free of the anger, free of the fight, free... of me." he said.

"Kinda like Shiro... if you're all gonna become zen and start meditating I'm outta here." she said. "You know he started a sort of shaolin cult, teaching humans some ninja meditation crap?"

"I heard." he said, looking at her, not moving his eyes from hers.

┬Ánd he's acting like a bloody monk. You know Juggernaut, the girl-whose-name-has-not-been-revealed? She totally has the hots for him, but he doesn't seem to notice... sometimes men can be so oblivious..." but he placed his hand above her mouth.

"Don't talk." he whispered, his eyes scanning their surrounding.

"Why? you feel anything out there? A dino?" she said, removing his hand.

"No. I just want to kiss you." and he did, sinking his lips into hrs, smiling.

Lila Cheney entered the Braddock's hut, knocking first. Elisabeth was feeding Jamie. The scene was way bizarre. A woman clad in a green costume, feeding a grown man as if he were a baby. However, Lila had gotten used to Jamie's childlike being, and Betsy's mother hen attitude towards him.

"Betsy? Can I come in?" she asked, stepping inside

"You already did." Elisabeth replied smiling.

"Duh... very funny..." Lila said, sitting next to Jamie. "How are you Jamie?"

"Cool. Pineapple good... yummy!" he said. Lila smiled at him

"Yes." said Elisabeth Braddock suddenly.

"Yes what?" asked Lila

"I said yes. I will go to the meeting tonight. Even if the high and mighty Queen Ororo didn't tell me about it. I appreciate your coming here."

"Well, she sent me... she wants you there." said Lila evassively.

"She'd do anything not to talk to me. She hasn't you know... not that I care... but ever since we came here, she hasn't said a single word to me." Betsy continued to feed her brother as she spoke. "Heck, she's even forgiven that Damask woman... and she used to work for Apocalypse."

"You know, you just have to tell me what happened between you two. I'm tired of fearing both of you complaining about each other and using me as a bloody messenger." Lila said crossing her arms

"If I do, you might not talk to me either." she responded darkly

"So... what's the deal with that dragonthing anyway?" asked Vance Astrovik, telekinetically hovering next to Magik, who was petting Lockheed as he played with a rag.

"I told you." she said, repressing a smile. "He's my friend."

"Your friend here tried to eat my costume last night..." said Vance, throwing a reproving look at Lockheed, who replied sticking his tongue out.

"You really believe we're gonna go out and be superheroes, don't you?" asked Magik

"Sure we are, we are going to save the world..." he said beaming

"The world is saved. Apocalypse is dead. My brother died to stop him." she replied coldly

"Oh right... I... I'm sorry." he landed in front of her, trying to catch her eye.

"Don't be. It's history now." she lowered her face, turned around and left, carrying Lockheed in her arms, who loocked back at him and smirked.

Vance looked at the girl as she departed. "Stupid boy... sometimes you seem even more like a child than she does, and you're three years older! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" he thought, mentally keeping himself.

"I wholeheartedly agree." said Damask, her amrs crossed, standing behind him.

Vance turned around. "You heard that? You shouldn't read my mind."

"I bet powerless Paris heard it. And I wasn't reading it. I told you to close your bloody mind and you shout in it louder than all of us combined. You truly are stupid." she added, walking past him.

"Why all this closing our mind thing you've been teaching us?" he asked inquisitevely

"I've been talking to Storm..." she said, without stopping. "...regardless of what Quicksilver might say... we don't trust her."

"Her who?" he asked, following her at last.

"Phoenix." Damask answered simply.

Storm looked at herself in the mirror. As she looked inside her eyes she tried hard to gather strength. In the field of battle it had been so easily to lead, almost as if she had been born to do so. But now, now it was different. She needed every ounce of strength she had to deliver her decision, her choice, and hoped they agreed with her. As she lost herself in her mind she closed her eyes, going over her speech, until, suddenly, she felt a pair of arms wrapping her waist, and a strong body pressing itself against her back. She was not startled, in fect she felt relieved. It continued to amaze her how easily he was able to slip past her senses, how he slithered around her unnoticed, and how good it felt to be in his arms.

"We have to stop meeting like this." she whispered, slowly opening her eyes, watching Ka-Zar's reflection in her mirror.

"Why? Don't you like it?" he said, moving her now-long hair aside and kissing her neck.

"Yes... but technically, I'm still with Pietro." she said, grabbing his hands on her waist.

"Pietro never leaves his hut. Pietro doesn't talk to you. Pietro doesn't touch you..."

"Don't start." she said, frowning slightly. "He's wounded, he's grieving."

"And you still love him..." he said, releasing her

"And I love you too..." she said, turning to look at him. "... but if I break up with him now... it might cause more damage."

He kissed her lips, suddenly, surprising her. "I did not come here to argue." he said, grabbing a package hanging from his belt and gave it to her. "A gift, so you'll think of me always, even when you're not in the Savage Land."

Someone knocked the door and Ka-Zar moved swiftly towards the window. "See you beautiful." he smiled and left, as suddenly as he appeared. Storm opened her gift, as they knocked on her door.

"Come in." she said. A beautiful black tiara rested within the package. She smiled and turned to her mirror, placing it in her head. It fitted perfectly.

"I don't think I ever saw you staring at yourself in a mirror." frowned Cecilia Reyes, entering Ororo's hut.

"Times change, people change." she replied simply.

"Pietro came out of his hut? Is that why you're so happy lately?" Cecilia asked.

"Are things ready?" Ororo changed the subject rather abruptly.

"Fine, don't talk about it..." replied Cecilia, throwing her arms up. "... they're waiting for you, let's go."

Ororo breathed in, looking at her reflection one last time. And she left her hut at last. The orange sky bathed the deserted village. Windows and doors were closed, protecting the people from the sunlight, which was a hindrance at this time of night, but, due to Avalon's global positioning, so close to the south Pole, an inevitability. Ororo walked, following Cecilia, as the Avalonians slept soundily. They soon arrived at a clearing, a bit removed from the village, where several people waited for them. Ororo took a second to look at the people gathered around a small fire.

Magik petter Lockheed, absent-mindedly, as Marvel Boy, young Vance Astrovik, stared at her from across the fire. Giant-Man was sitting on the ground, his body enlarged, if he had been standing he would be at least 15 feet high. Ororo did not know why he was perpetually using his power when in company. She had seen him return to normal human size when he entered his hut. Juggernaut's massive arms moved around as she spoke with Sunfire and Lila Cheney, apparently describing her latest fight with a t-rex. Dazzler and Exodus were cuddling next to the fire. Damask was in deep conversation with Graydon Creed and Rick Jones, they were Avalon's sort-of-leaders, prior to the X-Men's arrival. No one was truly in charge in Avalon, there wasn't much need for leadership, but, somehow, since their arrival, the X-Men had become sort of authorities, and Storm, as their leader, the ultimate authority. Queen Ororo as Elisabeth liked to call her. She looked at Phoenix, alone, her arms crossed, her eyes fixed on the weather

witch. Ororo frowned slightly as she saw her, keeping her anger in check. She did not know what angered her more about Braddock. She did not know wether it was her betrayal a decade ago, or her refusal to come clean about her augmented powers and her transformation into Phoenix. What was Phoenix? Where did the costume and the firebird came from? Did she not care? Was she a potential danger to Avalon? Storm thought so. She cleared her mind of such thoughts as she arrived, and as she did, all eyes turned to see her, ending their conversations, awaiting for her words.

"My friends, we are gathered here..." she started

"I told you before, we are NOT getting married." interrupted Dazzler suddenly "At least not yet."

Everyone laughed. It certainly helped Storm to be more distended.

"Since the X-Men's arrival at Camp Avalon, here in the Savage Land, we have been received with open arms, and in a relatively short time we have become a part of it. I believe, the time has come to extend our hands to others. We need to go out into the world, and offer this... heaven... to those who have suffered under apocalypse's mad rampage."

"I do not think that's wise. We have enough people already. Let the world take care of itself." said Graydon Creed

"That is not Avalon's way." said Cecilia Reyes "I've been here since the beginning, and Destiny's mantra was to give refuge to everyone who wanted it."

"Destiny's dead. I say we close our ceommunity, stop people from getting here." added Creed

"It's not so easy." said Sunfire. "There are hundreds of mutants out there who suffered Apocalypse's tortures and worse. The Human High Council is rounding up all humans in Europe, especially now that there is no opposition in what's left of America. We need to save our people.""

"Sure, that's what this place needs, more mutants." added Creed

"Let's make it simple. There is no need to argue." said Juggernaut. "Those in favor of Storm's plan to reach out and bring people who need our help, raise your hands."

Ororo was surprised to see everyone's hands, saved Creed's, rising in the air. She smiled.

"I guess that settles it." smiled Juggernaut.

Storm continued. "Well, I think we should choose a team to go... outside." she remembered Ka-Zar's words about the world. "... to see the state of the world. Accordingly, I'll be on said team."

"Me too. I want to use this new powers for more than just fighting dinos." said Juggernaut.

"You have my assistance Ororo, as well you know." said Sunfire.

"I want to go too." said Marvel Bo, trying hard not to sound too excited.

"Me too." said Magik, looking down, her face showing no real interest.

"I'll stay." said Giant-Man suddenly. "Someone needs to protect the village." As he talked, Dazzler whispered something in Exodus'ear, and, slowly, he nodded, though his eyebrows frowned.

Dazzler spoke next. "I'll go... I kinda miss the globetrotting after all."

"I'm still a novice with my powers, regardless of what happened last time. I think it best if I remained here." said Lila Cheney.

"I do not wish to leave Avalon. I have learned much here. I... I don't want to go out there again." said Damask, mainteining her usual coldness.

"It's settled then." Said Phoenix standing up. "Dr Reys won't leave, she is needed here, and I don't need to read the humans' minds to know they wouldn't join you, and as for myself...I wouldn't certainly want to head into battle with any of you. I'm off to bed."

"Elisabeth wait." said Lila, but she left without turning back.

An odd silence followed her leave. Graydon Creed stood up. "Better make sure the people you bring is as warm as she is." he said, looking at Storm. "As a simple human, I'm going off to bed too."

Rick Jones gave an apprehensive look, and then he left as well.

"I guess this means the meeting is adjourned..." added Dazzler. "Let's all go to bed now, tomorrow we'll settle when and how we'll go out."

And one by one, the circle broke, as everyone heded to their private huts to rest. Ororo watched as Magik walked rather fast, not watching at Marvel Boy, who walked right behind her. Dazzler and Exodus, walked together, grabbing each other's hands, and Juggernaut resumed her storytelling as she walked with Lila and Shiro. Once everyone had left, Ororo turned around, and her eyes met Ka-Zar's, who was sitting in a high branch, concealed by its leaves. he smiled and muttered goodnight. She smiled back and muttered the words as well. She turned and walked away, her mind turned to her passionate encounters with Ka-Zar, and how much she enjoyed them. It wasn't just about the physical relationship, there was also a great thrill to keep his presence hidden from the others. Ka-Zar, for some reason he had not explained, refused to tell Avalon of his existence, and Ororo had grown to respect that. And then, she passed through Pietro's closed cabin, and sighed, it could go on no longer. She knocked his door. There

was no answer. She knocked again. "Pietro. Open. It's me, Ororo again." still no answer. "This has to stop Pietro. It's been a month already. I need to see you, to talk to you." no answer. She frowned. Ororo tried to open the door, but it was locked. She removed one of her hairpins, her mind racing backwards towards her childhood, and she began to pick the lock. It was like riding a bycicle she thought, she had not forgotten how to do it. In seconds, with a feeble click, the door was unlocked. She opened it, entering without doubt. "Pietro?" there was no one inside. She lifted her hand, a small bead of lightning formed in it, enought to lit the dark hut. She saw a paper and grabbed it.

"I need to go. I'm a useless cripple, I have no place among you." she recognized his handwriting, she didn't need to read his signature. "Pietro Lensherr, he who was once Quicksilver." And suddenly, it began to rain.

As the rain broke over the Savage Land, a green portal appeared above the entrance cliff, and seven figures stepped out of it.

"Good job, my queen." said Soaron, his new metallic wings stretching.

"Impressive sight." added Sonique, looking at the growing village next to the waterfall

"I smell meat..." said Feral smiling

"Human meat." continued her sister Thornn.

Pete Wisdom lit a cigarette, safe from the rain thanks to their Black Queen's telekinetic shield. "So, we're gonna do this or we gonna stand here doing sight-seeing?"

"Guide us, fearless leader." said Mimic, stretching his borrowed wings, a mimickry of a mutant called Angel

"You know the plan. We go, we knock mutant unconscious, we recruit them." Soaron made a special stress on the word unconscious, making their intentions clear. He did not want any mutant deaths.

"And the humans?" asked Feral, her tail coiling itself against Mimic's leg.

"Kill them all." said the Black Queen, removing her hood. Long, flowy red hair appeared, as her bright green eyes flashed with energy, and she began to telekinetically hover towards the village, followed by the Hellions, ready to strike at Avalon.

TO BE CONTINUED! OY VEY!