The overcast sky grew darker as the first responders maneuvered through the altered streets and facilities of New York City, providing aid and policing evacuation routes. The citizens were uncharacteristically orderly and peaceful, considering the city had become a battleground and an elevated Danger Zone. Some had been seriously hurt by the stone warriors, but they all recognized that the presence of the X-Men, Spiderman, and the Fantastic Four had lessened the collateral damage.
Every news channel possible was within the city limits, reporting on the chaos from before and trying to get close to the large pyramid in the middle of the city. But electrical equipment ceased to function anytime they came within a two hundred feet of it. Though ambitious and energetic, none of the reporters dared venture any closer than that.
Near the pyramid, the heroes of the day convened, unbothered by reporters thanks to an invisible shield, courtesy of the Invisible Woman. Bishop briefly explained the background of the current situation to Spiderman and the Fantastic Four, now that they actually had time to listen. Rogue and Remy filled in some of the smaller gaps where appropriate, and when all was said and done, everyone understood that it was quite possible that the final battle was at hand.
"We've lost communication with the other two teams, which means that they've probably entered the pyramid already," Bishop stated. He checked his radio one more time, but an eerie silence was all he heard.
"We could go with you," Sue offered, catching the agreeing nod from Reed out of the corner of her eye.
Bishop shook his head, declining the offer politely. "The first responders need help out here. You guys are trusted faces…they need your help. Besides, if something happens in there, I want there to be someone out here that can stop whatever comes out of that pyramid."
"Let's just hope you guys don't fail," Johnny said.
Emma quipped, "Failure isn't an option for us, though it may be a standing element in your life."
Johnny felt his face grow hot, despite being surrounded by flames. "Hey, lady, we've saved the world a time or two ourselves. You guys weren't around when a planet-devouring freak came to make the Earth his afternoon snack. If you had been, I think I would've tried to feed you to it as an appetizer."
"Johnny," Reed warned. He shook Bishop's hand and said, "Come out alive. I would like our paths to cross again. And if you ever need help, we're one call away."
"I carry a cell phone too, you know," Spiderman interjected.
Michael cocked an eyebrow. "I can't imagine where in that tight spandex uniform."
"Whatever, No-Name X-Kid."
"Same to you, Spiderboy."
"Now, children," Emma had an edge of warning in her voice. "This isn't the time for senseless bickering, so knock it off."
Like an embittered child, Spiderman quietly shot, "He started it."
Bishop nodded to his teammates. "It's time. I don't know what we're going to face in there, so everyone needs to be ready for anything. Let's move out."
With that, Bishop' team of X-Men charged the pyramid, hoping that they weren't too late to save their teammates and ultimately, the world.
Fifty feet below the ground floor of the largest pyramid stood two teams of X-Men, face-to-face with the mastermind behind the recent string of nefarious events. Apocalypse, a name that he must have chosen for himself, smiled at the X-Men, regarding them as almost lesser beings, yet maintaining a certain level of unhealthy interest. His soul-piercing gaze sent chills down their spine.
The sub-chamber reeked of decay and mold, centuries-old bones, and thick dust now stirred by their presence. But the tension in the air was much thicker and solid than any ancient dirt or remains, as the X-Men and Apocalypse, flanked by his last two remaining Horsemen, stood on opposite sides.
"Long have I waited for this day, when the strong rise and rule this world. However, you have soundly defeated both Sinister and Ozymandias, proving to me that you would rather die by my hand than rule at my side."
While Apocalypse droned on, Scott was already analyzing the room, sizing up their opponents, as well as determining the best strategy to use against them. He could see the situation play out several different ways, and none of them involved them losing. They had the numbers. They had the strength. They had the will.
"No one is dying today, Apocalypse," Scott stated. He stepped forward, taking on the spokesperson role of the team, hoping that by some slight chance, he could talk Apocalypse down. "These powers aren't for enslaving those that can't fight back. That's tyranny, not natural selection."
Apocalypse chuckled then burst into a hearty laugh that it resounded throughout the chamber with a hard, metallic edge. "We shall see if you are willing to die for your ideals, children. Horsemen, do not leave a single one alive."
"With pleasure, Lord Apocalypse!" Shiro said as his flames flared.
"Storm, cover!" Scott shouted as he let a crimson energy beam tear from his eyes. The beam was easily deflected by Apocalypse, while Shiro and Lorna rushed in to do their master's bidding.
As Ororo's eyes clouded over, she held her hands to the side and rose into the air, a thick veil of mist suddenly enveloping the room.
"Weather witch! I'll burn your bones to ash!" Shiro spat as he soared toward her, his entire body enveloped in flames.
Ororo's attention turned to the oncoming threat. "Fool! The winds you ride upon are mine to command!" Ororo shot one hand in the air and instantly a whirlwind surrounded Shiro, throwing him off balance. "Wolverine!"
"Two steps ahead o' ya, darlin'. Colossus, I need a fastball special, now!"
Peter watched attentively as Logan leaped at him feet first. Timing it perfectly, Peter let both Logan's feet land in his palm as his arm pulled back, shifting Logan's momentum without throwing them off balance. With a mighty grunt, Peter hurled Logan—and at the same time, Logan leaped forward—then Logan was soaring through the air with an amazing speed.
"Parlor tricks are nothing to me!" Shiro said as he dove down into the whirlwind, Logan sailing right past him.
Reacting instinctively, Kurt disappeared from Kitty's side, appeared under Logan, grabbed his belt, disappeared in a cloud of hazy, purple smoke, and reappeared underneath Shiro. Kurt released Logan, as he sailed upwards, no momentum lost. Logan's elbow connected with Shiro's jaw with a sickening crack.
"This ain't no parlor trick, bub," Logan said as Shiro tumbled to the ground. Ororo used the wind to soften Shiro's fall but not too much, while a much stronger wind lowered Logan to the ground. Logan unsheathed his claws, ready for Shiro to get back up.
Coughing, Shiro rose to one knee, and eying Logan, he said, "Let's see how much you talk, X-Man, when your body begins to eat itself."
Logan lunged forward but then suddenly stopped in his tracks. An intense feeling of hunger swept over him then gripped his entire body. His muscles began to twitch, his mouth began to over-salivate, and he suddenly felt weak. Logan stumbled forward, barely able to stand as the hunger gripped him, and he then could feel his body feeding on itself.
The visible change in Logan was dramatic and almost instantaneous as his body seemed to draw into itself. His face grew thin, while his skin paled to a sickly complexion. Then his body seemed to wither away within a matter of seconds, leaving behind an emaciated shell.
"Yes!" Shiro watched gleefully as Logan fell to one knee. "I am Famine, Horseman of Apocalypse. Let's see how you fare against my true power." Shiro could feel his own energy soaring, thanks to absorbing Logan's.
"Hiya!" Kitty screamed as she planted a solid spinning roundhouse to the back of Shiro's head. As he stumbled forward, Kitty turned back intangible and said, "I am Shadowcat, X-Man. I just kicked your butt. Questions?"
While Shiro reeled from the attack, Kurt appeared next to Logan and in the next second, they were gone. Shiro glanced around for his victim, but Logan was nowhere to be seen. Then he turned a furious eye towards the translucent image of Kitty.
"Begone!" Shiro angrily screamed as he cast a wild barrage of flames in Kitty's direction.
"So lame," Kitty said as the flames simply went through her.
At the same time, Sean positioned himself in front of Shiro. "Ye might want t' cover yuir ears," Sean warned as he took in a deep breath. Exhaling, Sean let his mutated vocal chords rip, an explosive wail emanating from his mouth. The baritone sound tore through the room, the brunt of the force hitting Shiro squarely in the chest. Taken by surprise, Shiro was knocked back several feet, landing on the other side of Kitty, unconscious.
"Banshee, look out!" Kitty warned.
Sean, unaware of any danger, reacted too slowly, feeling the frigid touch snaking around his neck far too late to do anything to save himself. Sean's eyes went wide as the grip tightened, and immediately, his hands shot up to loosen it. Sean turned slowly to find that Apocalypse had intervened, a swarm of snake-like cords whipping out of his forearms.
"Clever, but futile," Apocalypse gloated as he mercilessly flung Sean across the room. He hit the side of the chamber hard then fell to the ground, unmoving. Moving fluidly, Apocalypse then wrapped the tentacles around Peter's right ankle then snatched him up into the air.
"Peter!" Kitty screamed as he was slammed into the ground repeatedly.
"Phoenix!" Scott prompted as a precise optic blast sliced the tentacle in two. Jean responded by gently wrapping her thoughts around Peter and lowered him to the ground out of Apocalypse's immediate reach.
"Imprudent—arrghh!!!" Apocalypse screamed as lightning tore through him, courtesy of Ororo.
"You now face the wrath of nature. Let's see how long you can withstand her might!" Ororo shouted, as the lightning continued to surge through her. She directed every bit of it at Apocalypse, increasing its intensity every few seconds. Ororo knew that she was using leathal force, but at this point, they had no choice. Apocalypse and his horsemen had already shown that they were willing to inflict mortal wounds.
As lightning cascaded around a screaming, writhing Apocalypse, Scott barked out concise orders, thankful for Ororo's timely intervention. "Shadowcat, grab Banshee, get him to safety. Wolverine, Nightcrawler, I need you both back in the fight. Iceman, Warren take care of Lorna. Beast, go with Shadowcat and grab Colossus. I want any wounded tended to immediately."
His team obeyed like a well-oiled machine, moving quickly and stealthily, following Scott's orders without question. Like him, they realized the gravity of a loss here, and there was no place here for pride or petty rivalries. They were a team, and now more than ever, they had to be one.
"Don't worry about me, bub," Logan and Kurt dropped from above, Kurt having teleported him above Scott's head. "I'm jus' gettin' started." With a snikt, Wolverine's claws popped out and a low growl escaped his lips.
In front of them, Lorna hovered overheard, a myriad of metal objects swirling about her as a green energy aura surrounded her. "Do not underestimate me, X-Fools! I am Pestilence. But my abilities as the Mistress of Magnetism will take care of you."
As if on cue, Bobby rode in on an ice slide, taking a wide loop around Lorna. "Reality check. We've fought Magneto and won. And you're definitely no Magneto," he said as he used one hand to shoot a focused ice beam at Lorna. He hoped to simply knock her off balance and let Warren subdue her, but his attack wasn't aggressive enough and she quickly moved a metal plate to shield her from the attack.
With a faint flick of her wrist, more metal plates shot out and whizzed by Bobby.
"What the hell?!?" Bobby exclaimed, but realized too late what happened. The metal plates quickly chipped away at his ice slide and the next thing he knew, Bobby was falling. Throwing up a hand, Bobby smiled as he felt another grab his and he began to soar through the air.
"How'd you know I'd be there?" Warren asked.
"We wouldn't be a team if you weren't."
Scott shot a blast toward Lorna while Logan and Kurt charged at her. Lorna saw the attacks coming, and without much effort redirected several pieces of metal to subdue her targets. Steel bars snaked around Warren's lithe body as if alive, twining around him and his wings, as well as pinning Bobby's arms to his sides. They both cried out briefly before they pummeled to the ground.
Lorna waved her hand, sensing the metal within Logan's body, and slammed him against the wall.
"Feel blessed by Apocalypse that you will die at my hand," Lorna smiled cruelly. With a flick of her wrist, the steel spikes that danced around Lorna came alive, and shot directly towards Scott and Kurt.
"Some of us have already died for our cause. Today, no one dies," Jean held out her hand feeling every spike as it hurdled toward them. Applying a gentle force, a mere fraction of her power, the spikes stopped in mid-air and floated for a moment before clanging to the ground. Jean brought her hand to her head and entered Lorna's mind, surprised at how easy it was to break Apocalypse's hold on her. Lorna tumbled from the sky, but a freed Warren, thanks to Logan, soared through the air and caught her.
"Archangel, evacuate with Lorna," Scott commanded, and Warren flapped his wings once and took off in the same direction as Hank and Kitty.
Now noticing the cascading energy, Scott turned his full attention to Apocalypse. It was then that he saw the building energy between him and Ororo, and realized that her lightning wasn't hurting him anymore. It was feeding him! Noticing Apocalypse's triumphant grin, Scott shouted a warning too late as the building energy exploded in an outward radius.
Jean grabbed Scott's arm as they were blown back then found themselves falling into an unseen chasm. The rest of the X-Men were blasted against the wall with such force that most left behind man-sized dents, their uniforms the only thing protecting them from having every bone in their body shattered.
"You have entertained me long enough," Apocalypse said. "X-Men, you are defeated."
"Not so fast, luv."
Apocalypse turned a curious eye toward the voice and found another group of X-Men, facing off against him.
"You haven't defeated all of the X-Men," Bishop said, pulling out his plasma pistols.
"Then come, X-Men. I shall make your deaths quick."
"Quick…I don't think that'll be fast enough," Michael launched toward Apocalypse.
"Michael, wait!" Bishop warned.
"No time," Michael called back as he sped toward Apocalypse. Big and slow. It wasn't a surprising combination, but Michael thought only for a second that he could have underestimated Apocalypse. But there was no way. Michael was fast—much faster than such a lumbering idiot. Surely, even if he turned on Michael, Michael would dodge and be covered by one of the other X-Men.
Apocalypse whipped out tentacles and swung them recklessly, and just like Michael thought, he was much too fast and the attack missed him by a long-shot. Now, I'll just get inside and—
A piercing pain stopped Michael in his tracks, and his body suddenly went cold. Warm, thick liquid filled his mouth as he glanced down and found several blade points jutting out of his chest. Stunned, he realized that he had simply gone at Apocalypse linearly, not realizing that his back was completely open and vulnerable. He must have redirected the tentacle attack, turning them into blades and…
Another surge of pain tore through Michael's body as he felt himself being picked up. Held over Apocalypse's head, Michael could only remotely hear Bishop shouting orders as Apocalypse laughed.
"You too will end up like this weak, foolish child. You X-Men are many millennia too young to face me in battle." Apocalypse tossed Michael's body at Rogue, who caught him as Betsy, Gambit, Jubilee, Alex, Sage, and Bishop charged in for an attack.
Rogue wasted no time in flying toward the back of the cavern to where Josh Foley was. "Ah don't think he's breathin'," Rogue's words came out breathy and emotional. When she set Michael on the ground, she noticed that blood had gotten on her gloves. "He's bleedin' real bad," she said, fighting back tears.
"I'm going to try to help. I don't know if I can," Josh Foley kneeled next to Michael, already concerned about the amount of blood pooled around him. He leaned in close to hear if he was still breathing. Though raspy, Michael was struggling for air. He was still alive!
Rogue felt a glimmer of hope, but then she heard the commotion behind her and realized she couldn't stay. "Please, do whatever ya can," Rogue turned, wiped the back of her glove across her eyes, and soared into battle, the image of Michael's limp body clear in her mind.
"Michael, hold on," Josh said. He could feel his heart racing and his palms begin to sweat, but he couldn't give in to trepidation. He had a life to save. And he didn't have long to do it.
Josh placed his hands over the wound, ignoring the warm and sticky blood seeping onto his hands. Closing his eyes and breathing deeply, Josh concentrated. He focused on what he could psionically discern about the wound, what organs were damaged, and how badly they were damaged. After discerning the severely of the wound, his mind shifted to the repair process.
He could feel each molecule in Michael's body, and every cell that was needed in order to enable Josh to heal him. Everything around them vanished, and Josh was concentrated on creating new cells, which turned into specific parts of organs, which replaced the damaged parts. A golden light radiated from not only his hands, but his entire body, which spread to Michael, completing the healing process.
Michael sprang to a sitting position, startled and confused. "What happened? Where? No…Apocalypse, he—" Michael glanced down at his midsection and saw several holes in his uniform. But underneath, the skin was smooth and untouched. There was no blood. No pain.
"I was—how?" he then saw Josh crouched next him. "You—you saved me."
"Don't worry about it…I owed you from the airport," Josh's eyes fluttered and he pitched forward. Michael barely caught him, laying him on the ground. Feeling slightly woozy, Josh managed a smile, "Guess that took a little more out of me than I thought."
"I can't leave the team…not now."
"I'll be fine here. Don't let Apocalypse win."
Michael nodded, his heart still pounding as he remembered the pain and fear of dying. But he pushed those aside, knowing that he still had to fight—if for no other reason, to ensure that Apocalypse would never kill again.
Rising to his feet, Michael sped back into the fight, and zooming past his teammates, leaped in the air, flipped feet first, and panted both heels in Apocalypse's face. Rebounding off his face, Michael leaped backwards and landed on the ground, balanced on one knee and one hand.
Apocalypse's head snapped back into place, and his dislocated jaw melted back into place.
"You're okay?!?" Jubilee said from her place next to Michael.
"Yeah. No thanks to that guy."
Apocalypse seemed surprised to see Michael again. "Persistent, aren't you, child? This time, I shall tear you limb from limb and ensure your death."
"Over my dead body," Ororo shot an icy wind covered the floor directly under Apocalypse with ice.
She had recovered moments after Michael had been stabbed, an internal maternal instinct having jarred her from unconsciousness. On a deep level, she felt as though Michael was in mortal danger, but when she saw him kick Apocalypse in the face, she thanked the goddess when Michael wasn't hurt. But she couldn't chance something happening to him, so brushing off her disorientation, Ororo vowed to protect him no matter what the cost.
At the same time, Ororo pelted him with an isolated shower of tennis ball sized hail. Taking a cue, Remy whipped out a handful of cards, blasting Apocalypse from head to foot. Jubilee joined in as she let fireworks rip from her hands, all exploding around Apocalypse. Alex pointed his fists at Apocalypse and bombarded him with plasma blasts. Bishop joined in, firing at Apocalypse's chest, hoping to break through his armor.
"Bishop, fire one inch up and a quarter of to the right of his breastplate. It's his weak point," Sage shouted. "Then order everyone to withdraw. I can't explain right now, just do it."
Bishop quickly readjusted his aim and found the spot Sage referred to, even through the exploding, luminous energies surrounding Apocalypse. He fired and a cry from Apocalypse, signaling that he had hit his mark. Apocalypse staggered, the breastplate of his armor broken, and Bishop, though uneasy about it, called for everyone to withdraw.
Surprised, but knowing there was a plan in store, they pulled back.
Jean hit the ground before either she could even begin scream. Usually, she would have automatically enveloped the both of them in a telekinetic shield, but the attack was so sudden and powerful, that she was simply caught off-guard, a rare thing to happen to a telepath.
Coughing and trying to regain her breath, Jean did a quick physical check. A few bruises…no cracked ribs or bones, she thankfully concluded. Glancing back up, Jean estimated that they had fallen at least twenty feet and was grateful that a few bruises were all she had. Jean gingerly rose to her feet and found Scott stirring a few feet away from her.
"Scott, are you okay?" Jean asked, though she already knew the answer. She had already scanned him as well and found that he was bruised, but nothing more.
Scott sat up stiffly and surveyed the cavern. "Yeah. I think so. Where are we…some kind of secret room?" About ten feet by ten feet, the room was pretty bare. Cobwebs and a thick layer of dust covered the floor and anything with a horizontal surface. The one thing that caught Scott's eye was a display on the wall opposite them—an odd spear mounted to the wall. Unlike everything else, it wasn't dusty, as if it had been recently placed there. But aside from the hole, there was no other way in or out of the room.
"Looks like it. But I can feel something strange in here. It's almost like we were meant to be here—" Jean cut her sentence short as the spear began to glow, a warm glow shining from somewhere deep within the weapon. "It's calling us," Jean ominously said.
Scott's trepidation cut through the pain racking his body and he stood along with Jean, both their eyes transfixed on the glowing spear. "Calling us?" Scott repeated, unsure if Jean's statement was positive or negative.
"Someone's put a psychically imprinted message in it. Only a high-level psi would be able to detect it," she explained. Jean held out her hand and focused her telepathy, combined with a fragment of the Phoenix force to create a three-dimensional image of the message.
A tall, gray-haired figure appeared, staring at them with a grim expression that immediately reminded Jean of Scott. His glowing left eye, metallic shine of his left arm and hand, muscular frame, and rugged appearance told Jean that this man had seen more than his fair share of battle throughout his life. But despite everything that didn't seem familiar about the man, Jean felt like she should have known exactly who he was. Yet, it eluded her.
"There isn't much time," the man said. "If you're here, that means Apocalypse has returned. It's detrimental to the future that you stop him here and now. Defeat would mean slavery and death for both humans and mutants alike. This Psimitar was specially created to defeat Apocalypse, since he's imperious to every other type of weapon. Cyclops and Phoenix—Scott and Jean—you gave me a chance in my future, now I'll give you a chance to change that future."
Scott asked, "Wait, how do you know us?"
Jean shook her head. "It's only an imprinted message, not an actual telepathic communication. But, he must have known that we would find this."
"I'm Cable. Remember the name," the man finished. His image faded then disappeared completely, leaving the cavern deathly silent.
"Cable," Scott repeated. Embedding the man's face in his memory, he turned to Jean. "We've got to get back to the others." Scott took a step forward and grabbed the Psimitar, instantly feeling a power surge through him.
Knowing that time of the essence, Jean kept her questions at bay, and instead spread her arms, enveloping them both in the Phoenix corona. "Do you think this weapon will work?"
"It has to. Cable said so," Scott said, unbelievably confident in the stranger's words. He couldn't explain it, but there was just something about Cable that Scott found familiar. And that's why he had no doubt that Cable's words were true.
Jean floated them out of the hole and hovered there for a moment, seeing Apocalypse staggering as Bishop's team pulled back.
"Now!" Sage shouted as if she already knew what they were planning to do.
Feeling a warm light washing over him, Apocalypse turned and immediately, his blood went cold. "The firebird," he mumbled. His mind instantly went back to the prophecy Ozymandias had revealed. Behold, at first sight of the firebird of the cosmos that wields the mind staff of future ages, death will befall the great Apocalypse.
Scott flipped the Psimitar in his hands, drew it back then with all his might, hurled it toward Apocalypse. Jean closed her eyes and telekinetically guided the Psimitar while imbuing it with the power of the Phoenix. It sailed noiselessly through the air and hit its mark with a sickening thunk, sinking deep into the center of Apocalypse's chest.
Losing control of his functions, Apocalypse tried to grasp the Psimitar, but his hands and arms wouldn't cooperate as he began to flail wildly about. His body began to melt as his mind began to fry. "No! I am the strongest…I cannot be defeated!" As Apocalypse's corporeal form turned into a puddle of nothing, his mind completely released his psyche, as it dissipated into the atmosphere.
"Some of us have seen first hand the consequences of a good person corrupted by power," Charles Xavier scanned his ethics class, making subtle eye contact with Kitty Pryde, Michael Mjnari, and Bobby Drake. They met his eyes for a second then continued to take notes as Charles continued, "That is why we must strive to harness the power we possess for the greater good of all humanity."
Charles scanned the students, watching as some scribbled furiously in their notebooks, while others sat in rapt attention. Of course, there were the few that weren't paying attention, like Angelo Espinoza, who was seconds from falling asleep.
It had been two weeks since the incident with Apocalypse and everything seemed back to normal. There had been quite a few meetings with the faculty and students to explain his presence, as well as Scott's and Jean's. Still, things had settled down, classes had resumed, and once again, the world was a safer place. Hopefully.
A raised hand caught his attention. It was Kitty.
"Professor," she began, "what happens to those that cross that line between helping and hurting? People whose power is so great that its very existence threatens that balance?"
"Good question, Kitty," Charles commended her, glad that she had brought up a question that hit close to home. Too close. "Let's open this up for a class discussion. Would anyone care to comment on Kitty's question?"
Another raised hand—that of Quentin Quire—waved in the air only for a brief moment before he replied. "If they're that dangerous shouldn't they just be gotten rid of?" He was immediately bombarded with voices of dissention, but after a silencing wave from Charles quieted the other students, he continued. "Or maybe they're powerful for a reason. Isn't that the point of mutation to ensure the survival of a species? Take a look at society. In every aspect, the strongest entity is rewarded with leadership of and superiority over the others. Isn't this the same thing?"
Kitty felt her cheeks flush with anger, and she knew that her emotions were getting the better of her, but Quentin's obnoxious, idiotic rhetoric had to be addressed. Without raising her hand, she shot, "Apples and oranges, dweeb."
"Kitty," Charles warned in a fatherly manner.
"Sorry, Professor. But seriously, we're talking about human lives here. Regardless of power, no one has the right or authority to kill mercilessly only to establish some sort of hierarchy based on your interpretation of strength."
Monet St. Croix added, "I agree with Katherine. If someone suddenly decided that intelligence was a true measure of strength, you would be the first to be disposed of, Quentin, which would not be tragedy by any means. However, survival of the fittest would simply be an arbitrary claim made by the holder of the coveted trait."
"Like who is on translator duty for Ms. Know-It-All? Angelo? Paige?" Jubilee said from the back row.
"Ah'm not touchin' this one," Paige Guthrie grinned.
Angelo Espinosa, who had snapped his head up once Kitty's elevated voice reached his ears, waved his hands as if to ward Jubilee off. "Leave me out of it too. I was lost two seconds after class started."
Michael laughed then said, "Let's put it this way: would you think it was right for Monet to say that anyone who wasn't as perfect as her should be put to death?" Michael asked.
A few students chuckled.
"That's stupid," Quentin spat.
"Well, so is an assertion that the strongest mutants should rule over everyone else," Bobby countered.
Michael added, "Or kill anyone else for that matter. Think about it. Racism, sexism, and religious intolerance all have the exact same thought processes behind it. But just because there are people out there that think it, that doesn't make it right."
Kitty added, "And no one has the right to hurt or kill in the name of establishing a certain groups' superiority."
Quentin, feeling his face grow hot, challenged, "That's not what Magneto believed, is it, Professor?" Quentin challenged.
The class grew silent, most knowing of the complicated relationship between Magneto and the Professor. Most knew about the incident on Ellis Island and Magneto's involvement in the Alkali Lake incident. Both were touchy subjects, so most students steered away from asking about them in class. But not Quentin.
Charles, recalling both incidents, answered, "No. He believes that mutants should rule as the stronger species. And there are several mutants out there that hold the same belief. But for all those that want to subvert and harm those less powerful, there are just people who will ensure that the balance is maintained."
He scanned the classroom, only stopping for an abbreviated second on Michael, Kitty, and Bobby, acknowledging that they were a part of the solution.
"For those people that have tremendous abilities, they have the freedom of choice, just as anyone else does. They can use those abilities for the sake of furthering mankind, or they may turn and use them to subvert and terrorize others. It is an ethical decision—a responsibility—that we must deal with everyday. I pray that you continue to make the choice to further mankind with your unique abilities and protect those that cannot protect themselves. We will continue tomorrow. Class dismissed."
Staring out of his office window, Charles said, "Much has happened, and I fear that the worst is still yet to come. And somehow, I don't know if I'll be able to protect any of you."
Emma Frost leaned against one of the bookcases and waited a full minute before replying. "We're not children, Charles. It's not your job to protect us. You've showed us that there's a better way. And it's up to us to keep that dream alive. Sometimes, pursuing a dream can be costly. But if in the end, we make things better for future generations, it can be seen as a needed sacrifice."
Charles turned back to Emma, meeting her gaze. "That doesn't make it any easier. We were lucky with Jean and Scott."
"I don't put much stake in luck. As much as I dislike them, I respect them. Your X-Men will go toe-to-toe with death on any given day and come out on top. But that's because of the faith and trust you have in them and they have in you. Jean and Scott, they're your two star students…they're the epitome of your dream. Death won't come easy for either one of them. Actually, for none of us. So maybe you should try to get some sleep. Tomorrow's another day, and another chance to get it right. Besides, I think one of your star pupils needs a little pep talk," Emma said as she sauntered out of the room, and right past Ororo Munroe.
Charles smiled as Ororo entered the room, but she didn't return his smile. Grim, she sat down and locked her blue eyes with his. "I can no longer be the headmistress of this school."
The words stunned Charles, and for just a moment, he didn't know what to say. "Ororo," he began then stopped. "I thought I was invincible. I thought I had all the answers, but I was wrong. And I paid for it. Dearly. And my students—all of you—suffered because of my own vanity. There's nothing I can say to change the past. Jean. Scott. It made me realize that despite the immense powers we wield, we are still human. We're prone to doubt, frustration, mistrust, and anger. But with that, we can also love, hope, forgive, and believe. And that's what I see in you, Ororo."
She shifted in her seat, "With Scott returning, I figured—"
Charles held up a silencing hand. "You're an irreplaceable foundation of the school and the X-Men. Ororo, I would be honored if you would continue to lead the X-Men alongside Scott, and be my eyes and ears beyond these walls. So much is changing out there, and I'm afraid that in my older age, I'm losing touch with that. You're a natural leader, a strong fighter, and a role model for our students. There's no one else that I would entrust this school to."
"Charles," she said as she leaned across the desk and hugged him, feeling confident that everything would be fine from now on.
Deep in the subbasement of the Xavier School for gifted youngsters, seven individuals made their way to what was affectionately known as the Danger Room. Wearing black leather uniforms, each altered slightly to reflect the wearer's personality, they strode confidently into the room, mentally preparing themselves for the training battle ahead.
Scott stole a glance toward Jean, who gave him a mental wink. Ororo breathed deeply, locking her concentration onto her weather manipulation abilities. Kurt stretched his lithe body and tail, excited for the chance to display his amazing acrobatic skills. Peter smiled as the anticipation of physical combat raised his adrenaline. Logan extended his claws, ready for some long-overdue action. And Peter flexed his muscles, ready to take out a few opponents with a mix of strength and agility.
But when as soon as they crossed the threshold and the door closed behind them, they stopped.
"There is no way you guys were like planning on starting without us, right?" Jubilee blew a bubble and popped it, sucking the gum back into her mouth.
"Forge, hold off on the training program," Scott directed. He scanned the figures standing on the opposite side of the Danger Room, clothed in outfits similar to the X-Men leathers, but varied enough to have their own distinct look, reflecting an aspect of the owner's personality, much like their own uniforms. "What are all of you doing here?"
Bobby stepped forward. "Angel, Rogue, Shadowcat, Impulse, Hellion, Cannonball, Gambit, Sage, Mirage, and Jubilee reporting for the Danger Room session." He named them from left to right, and as their name was called, they each performed some sort of small trick with their powers. When Bobby was done, he transformed into his ice form, and smiled.
Logan scowled. "Shouldn't you brats be in class?"
"Nah. We're right where we need to be," Julian replied.
"My stars and garters. I do believe our young, restless charges have decided to mutiny," Hank joked.
Kitty replied, "Not a mutiny, Beast. We're all on the same team, and no matter what you guys think, we're in this for the long-haul. Through thick and thin, the best and the worst, the good and bad. We're X-Men, and we're not going to let you forget it." She met Peter's gaze and offered a smile, which he returned gratefully.
Michael added, "A young heart's desire cannot be quelled by any force of nature. A wise X-Man once told me that. So, we're following our heart's desire."
Rogue floated next to her peers. "This is our choice. We won't back down."
The older students smiled, Jean in particular. "I think we have the man in the control booth to thank for this, right Professor?" Jean asked.
"Your telepathy is as fine-tuned as ever, Phoenix," Charles smiled.
"So what's the plan, Cyclops?" Bobby asked.
Scott smiled. Though they were young, Scott knew that no matter what the future held, they believed in Xavier's dream. And the strength in that dream would make them an unstoppable force.
"Let's do this by the numbers," he replied, a crimson shine reflecting off his visor, betraying the deadly optic blasts held at bay.
On cue, a multitude of soldiers as well as a fleet of Sentinels invaded the room. Scott looked over his entire team once more. "On my mark," Scott held his ground, waiting for their enemies to make the first move. He only had to wait a moment—one of the Sentinels shot an amber laser in their direction.
Then, all hell broke loose.
Thanks to all for reading this story. I had a great time writing this story, and I'm extremely grateful for all of the positive reviews. I encourage all of you to keep plugging away at your own stories and helping others along as they refine their skills.
Anonimo: Wow…calling me out! I promise, I'll get back to work on it!
Ratdogtwo: This chapter should have answered your question.
Odd Little Turtle: I'm glad you've been following the story, and I hope you like the ending.
Babyjay2fly: We didn't lose any of the good guys and they all made it out pretty much unscathed.