Disclaimer: All characters belong to Marvel. No remuneration on my part is sought or received. I'm just playing. Please don't sue. I've gotten rather A/U since the start of this thing, so the chance of spoilers has decreased, but it may still be there. I hope you enjoy our finale... I guess it's too long to call an epilogue at this point
"This is too bloody much," shouted Pete Wisdom, his fingers blazing a trail of white-hot death. "It's like these little buggers are popping out of the ground like bloody weeds."
"Dammit!" exclaimed Logan, "We ain't making crap for progress here." The cloudbank above the castle, now impossibly dark, had begun to rotate, faster and faster, and the wind speed increased in proportion to the building storm.
Wolverine tried to close his nostrils to the overwhelming stench on the gale force wind that assaulted the two of them. The good news was that the powerful gusts were tossing around the smaller demons like rag dolls, and causing the larger ones to stagger as much as he was. Wisdom was crouched low, trying to cover his head with his jacket against the sandblaster power of the storm.
Every sense Logan had was telling him to run. There was a presence here so inimical to life that it caused his hackles to rise and fresh adrenaline to course through his system. Still, he forced his way forward, inch by painful inch, as his flesh was scored and abraded.
And then it was gone, replaced by an eerie calm. The remaining creatures scampered away, fear and uncertainty in their eyes and their guttural calls.
Pete Wisdom pulled himself to his feet, dusting off his pants as he did. "Not that I object that our ugly little friends don't want to play anymore, but what just happened? Did we win?"
"Awfully rude of them, not to wait for us."
Logan sniffed, "If ya didn't get enough, we can track down the Lord a' the Rings extras an' put 'em down." He took another sniff, his nose crinkling. "Then again, maybe they left us some scraps after all."
It was Cannonball, patrolling the grounds at high speed, that saw the flash first. "Scott, Ah think we got company!"
"Hostile? Or friendly?"
Sam grinned as he swooped down for a landing, "Definitely friendly – Ah'd say the conquering heroes have come home!"
Yellow slits peered through the darkness of the otherwise deserted throne room. Kurt Wagner looked around carefully, and then, satisfied that the grisly remains of his former master weren't going to come together and reanimate him and fairly confident that the group of X-men were gone, crawled out of the shadows. He'd clung nervously to the wall as the scene had played out, ready to seize whatever opportunity presented itself.
He could not be more delighted with the result. There were moments, he knew, when he could have changed the outcome. He could have warned his lord about the way Ramsey and his robotic friend had merged into one being. He might have been able to reach the medallion or Soulsword by teleporting there before his pathetically noble counterpart. What had stopped him, to risk angering Belasco and the extreme pain and horrible death that might result, he could not say. But he hadn't, and now he would reap his reward.
It was the gifts Belasco had given his apprentice - gifts always denied Kurt, a lowly manservant - that he sought now. The sword was the easiest to find, lying just where Ramsey had dropped it when he'd been decapitated. Kurt reached down and grasped the hilt, delighting in the aura of pure malevolence surrounding the weapon. It had more heft to it than he liked - the rapier or sabre would be his preference - but he could see the way it would cleave necks and limbs with equanimity. He smiled broadly, and searched for the other relic he desired.
He heard skittering sounds in the halls, and knew he was running out of time. The demon host that had scattered with the termination of Master spell and the death of Belasco were now heading back, confident that the assorted heroes had gone.
He recalled how Belasco had placed the Pentacle of Paimon inside his robe, but that knowledge was of little use given the degree of mutilation to the body and its effects. Kurt prodded a blood soaked piece of cloth with the tip of the sword, smug satisfaction on his face at the final end of the man who had made him the twisted thing he'd become. In truth, Belasco would be taking just as much delight had it been him that lay in pieces everywhere - had taken just as much delight, in fact, in those times that Kurt had served as an object lesson for the other servants.
Unbidden, the memory stirred of being dragged back to life after being tortured to death over and over. Included in the memory was a phrase - "J'kfvln Sylvryl Krhn'n Uqlplq" - the spell of resurrection. As he continued to search the remains, he thought idly about trying it - if he could somehow compel Belasco's servitude, the idea of subjecting his former master to the agony of being reconstituted bodily and having one's soul plucked from the stillness of death and forcibly reunited was an intriguing one. But Kurt had seen enough plans go awry here; most likely, he would not be able to assure the sorcerer's fealty, and would end up back in his old role, with some punishment Belasco thought suitable for the failure with the Master spell.
A glint of black among the carnage caught his eye, even as a handful of goblins came sniffing into the room. "Back!" he cried, brandishing his sword and easily beheading the nearest goblin, "It's mine, do you see? All mine!" He plunged his hand into the gore and pulled out the amulet. The goblins had raised a hooting call, and soon dozens of demons had come in. A lizard bear snarled at him, and began to shamble forward, its claws spread and fangs poised to strike.
"Kl'tzkh!" Kurt cried out. For a second, nothing happened, and he feared he hadn't pronounced the word of power correctly. But then the amulet flashed green, and a bolt of black lightning impacted heavily into the lizard bear's chest, throwing it back. It crashed into a far wall, and slumped down, dead. "Yes," said Kurt, "I control the magic now, and with it, Limbo itself! And I promise you, I will not be a kindly master." He paused; letting his words sink in, taking great pleasure in the looks of fear he was getting. "But if you escape my displeasure - and my whims - then you will be rewarded greatly..
"Belasco, the fool, never allowed me to use my own power to leave this place. But as my inferior, insufferable double has shown, the power to traverse the worlds is mine. I will go to Earth, collect riches and slaves aplenty. For what can truly stop a teleporter as myself? I will bring the finest women here for my amusement, and you will get to dine richly on my scraps when I am through! Together, we will all live as kings! "
Smiling broadly, he looked them over. "Kl'tzkh!" he yelled, blasting a creature selected at random. "Just remember that I am king above all."
The assembled creatures, mindful of the ease by which three of their number had been dispatched, roared their assent.
Wisdom had pursed his lips thoughtfully. It was hard to picture Wagner so power-mad and depraved, but he'd certainly seen worse. And he'd certainly seen people fall much farther into darkness during his time in Black Air and military intelligence. "Yeah, let's do it."
Tony Stark breathed a deep sigh. Another crisis had been averted; the world would seem to live to see another day.
He glanced at the array of holographic projections floating before a large wall as Deputy Director Maria Hill completed her report. The overall attitude in the war room was still one of nervous tension - most SHIELD agents were no more comfortable facing magickal enemies than he was, some of them referring to it as "DiNDiS", short for "that Dungeons and Dragons shit". He thought, very briefly, that perhaps a new division to deal with such crises, something along the lines of their extraterrestial division SWORD, only for mystic threats. STAFF? SPELL? He filed it away for future reference.
But for now, it seemed like everything was winding down. The screens before him showed the aftermath, the devastation inflicted on five major population centers. The deaths were being numbered in the thousands, and the financial costs in the billions. He was fairly pleased with the response of his Initiative, but was also keen to analysis the data gathered on the superpowered response from the rest of the world. The Winter Guard had been very impressive in Moscow, decent mobilization time, albeit with the advance warning from Summers. They were, aside from the new Darkstar and Red Guardian, known entities, and he knew how to take them down if need be. A reconstituted China Force fought tenaciously in Shanghai, and Japan's Big Hero 6 had helped out in both there and in Seoul.
Bringing up his e-mail on his armor's displays, he began to compose a message to have Hill take the video to the tactics team for analysis. One could never be too prepared for the future, particularly if countries like India and China would soon be able to field metahuman forces comparable to those in the States.
Suddenly, an incoming text message burst through all of his security protocols and opened in front of his virtual mail. It blazed in fiery blue letters
the road to the future must be paved with trust
it was cooperation not conflict that won this day
Iron Man considered this for a moment, and then tossed the e-mail he'd been writing in the virtual recycle bin. The crew down in Tactics would be analyzing the data anyway. Maybe if he wasn't the one to order them to constantly look for ways to neutralize any non-Initiative superbeings, they might begin to think that the so-called "heroes" had things on their minds other than trying to beat the crap out of one another.
Maybe. He shrugged, and focused back in on the briefing with the Deputy Director.
Wolverine ghosted into position, his footfalls silenced by years of study and intense concentration. He crouched behind one of the larger demons, an acid-spitter, whose bulk shielded him from view. Most of the horde was listening raptly as that evil facsimile of Kurt Wagner held high the Pentacle of Paimon in his left hand and the dark sword in his right, as he regaled them with tales of how his regime would bring them the flesh of innocents to violate and consume. He stifled the growl in his throat, then peered back at the pillar where Wisdom was waiting as both sniper and heavy artillery. Logan was the infantry in both design and temperament. Sure, he was adept at the wetworks stealth ninja thing, but nothing set his heart to racing like a good brawl.
He poised his fist an inch away from the base of the creature's skull, right where it met the top of the spine, and popped his claws.
It tumbled forward with a gurgle, choking on its own ichor, and knocking over some of its smaller brethren and alerting the others. Adamantium flashed and wet sprays of green, yellow and blue followed in its wake. He just needed to make a lot of noise, get all the eyes on him, to give Wisdom a clean shot at "Dark Nightcrawler", but he'd be damned if he wasn't going to enjoy himself a bit.
Wagner watched in horror as the whirling dervish - his friend in another, forgotten life -decimated his troops. His first impulse was to 'port away, but to show cowardice here, however enticing, would mean he would never have this chance again. "Kl'tzkh!" he cried, summoning the black lightning. "Kl'tzkh! Kl'tzkh!" Bolts crackled across the room, which echoed with the sounds of their devastating impacts.
Logan threw himself out of the way, only to be carried along by the shockwave and hurled against a pillar. Shrapnel cut deep into his flesh, and his head was ringing. He began to struggle to his feet when the stench of brimstone overwhelmed his nostrils.
Belasco's servant was on him before he could recover, and the lurch to his system that accompanied the subsequent teleport was nothing compared to the agony he felt as he materialized. Wagner had plunged the obsidian blade he held into Wolverine's abdomen, where it slid evenly through into the floor behind him, pinning him. Worse than the pain from that was the foul iciness that made his gut burn and his heart scream. He clenched his teeth.
"Pitiful animal," mocked Kurt. "What good is your berserker fury now, trapped like an insect in a collection. You've always made an excellent specimen. Perhaps I should mount you on my wall? We can see how long your vaunted healing factor can stave off the dark magic of the sword, which even now floods your bloodstream with its poison." His face took on a thoughtful look, then a wicked grin. Eight sharp retorts of imploding and expanding air, sulfur and brimstone rocked the chamber, and when the smoke parted, four pikes had been teleported through Wolverine's wrists and ankles and into the floor.
"Now that you are properly secured," the evil Nightcrawler said as he pulled the dark bladed sword from out of Wolverine slowly, "I can deal with your friend properly. You can come out now, Herr Wisdom!"
Pete had not been idle during the battle, having sent salvo after salvo into the crowd of demons when he hadn't been able to get a clean shot at Wagner. Only a handful of the creatures remained, but he hadn't counted on being exposed so quickly. He took cover behind a pillar, as he fed more power into the fingers of his right hand.
Kurt noticed the glow across the room. "Now, now, let's have none of that! Surely you must know if you fire your little hot knives, you have a much better chance of hitting your friend here."
"Quite sure of yourself, aren't you, Wagner?" Pete said.
"Ja, quite so. I may not have worked with you as my deluded counterpart, but my former master made me quite aware of your capabilities. I can teleport away before you can twitch a finger. Now come out, so I may kill you quickly, instead of letting you linger like the Wolverine here."
Wisdom shouted back, "Let me think about it for a minute, will ya?" He crunched the numbers in his head – what they knew about Logan's healing factor, it should only be a few moments more. "You know, Wagner, I think I'll take a pass. I still have work t' do, and being killed by a wanker like you would look dreadful in my file. And besides," he said, stalling a bit more, "I know something that you don't know."
"And what's that?"
"Adamantium is too dense for your little teleport trick to try to merge it with those pike shafts."
"What-!" Kurt spun to look back at the pinned X-man on the ground, catching only the silvery flash of claws heading his way. His right arm went flying, severed neatly at the bicep, the sword tumbling from it as it hit the ground several feet away. Wolverine lunged for the killing strike, only to have his claws rake against stone as his opponent vanished in a puff of smoke.
"Crap," he muttered, and collapsed to the floor. "You got him, Wisdom? I still need to grow back some ligaments and tendons in my ankles here." Hearing no response but a series of soft footsteps, he pulled himself over to a stone pillar and leaned against it to wait.
There were times – precious few over the years – that made being the leader of a group of outcast freaks against murderous supervillains, impossible odds, and never-ending intolerance and bigotry worth all the hassle. As Scott looked out the front door and saw the smile on Peter's face as he cradled his sister in his arms, and at the way the third generation of Xavier's students, long outgrown the title "New Mutants", gathered around a sandy haired young man, he knew that this was one of those. The world had been saved, as always, but they'd also brought two of their own back to the fold. He smiled, and put his arm around Emma. She smiled back wistfully, wishing that her Hellions, or Synch, or the children from the bus destroyed by Stryker's fanatics might also be returned to her, but knowing that they had to take these moments as the blessings they were.
Rahne had been in wolf form, scouting the forest north of the mansion, when she'd caught his scent. She hadn't believed it, but came running when Dani had beckoned her over the mindlink they shared. She'd come racing out of the trees at a full sprint, running circles around Doug before putting her paws on his chest and lapping at his face.
"Rahne?" he laughed, "Down, girl!"
She shifted to human form and caught him in a tight embrace. "Dougie! I cannae believe it! Look at ye, ye've grown a beard! How are ye here?"
There would be time for stories later.
It had all gone wrong. Stupid stupid stupid! He should have known better; he wasn't cut out to be a King of Hell. Blood gushed from his right arm – he would bleed out very soon unless he remembered a healing spell, and the Master so seldom used them. Maybe a fire spell, to cauterize the wound? How did that go? If only the Master were here.
He collapsed heavily against the wall. He hadn't been able to teleport far. If only it were far enough.
Then he thought – the Master could be here. It was a spell he knew. J'kfvln Sylvryl Krhn'n Uqlplq. That one was burned into his memory, after all.
He began to focus his breathing, trying to block out the pain. He focused the image of Belasco in his thoughts, directing them at the Pentacle in his left hand. "Lord Belasco, I summon thee. From thy grave, I beckon thee. Master of Limbo, I summon thee! J'kfvln Sylvryl Krhn'n Uq-"
He heard a voice - "Oh, bugger that!" – and his eyes were blinded by impossibly bright incandescence streaming across the way.
The glow that had been building up in the Pentacle of Paimon died with him.
"Get him?" asked Logan, casually smoking one of his cheroots.
"I came back, didn't I?"
The Canadian man looked in his eyes, then nodded. "Good."
"No lectures, how I could have cauterized the wound and brought him back alive?" asked Pete, collapsing down next to him.
"Nah. Didn't have any use for him alive."
"Fair enough. I keep forgetting you aren't as soft as most of the spandex wearers."
"You do know that there's about fifty ways I could use that cheap suit you wear against you in a fight, right?" Logan snarled, "Say what ya want, but this stuff's tough as body armor, with complete freedom a' movement when things get dirty."
"Pshaw, I could take you."
Wisdom stumbled to his feet, "C'mon old man, show me what you've got."
Wolverine's nostrils flared, and his hackles rose. "Listen, Wisdom, I don't know what – oh, I get it. You've made your point. Sit the hell back down."
"Can it be? I thought you super-types were legally obligated to get into fights with one another at the drop of a hat. You've completely ruined my image of you."
He grimaced, "You can really be a pain in the ass, Wisdom."
Pete shrugged, "One does one's best." They sat in silence for several minutes before he spoke again, "So tell me – the Russian – is he, is he good to her?"
"He ain't screwed up this time around, no. It took 'em long enough, but they finally got things figgered out."
"So you don't think-?"
"Wouldn't count on it, no. The kids are pretty damn happy together."
A few more minutes went by. "What time yer fairy princess say she'd pick us up?"
"She said she'd give us twenty four hours."
"C'mon, get up."
"Why? Where are we going? You know some sort of back door out of here?"
"No, but ol' Hornhead had some mortal appetites. Hopefully he didn't conjure all his booze, 'cause if we don't find some soon, yer gonna get that super-type fight you were askin' for."
"You can put me down now, Piotr," Illyana said, "I want to go join in the X-babies reunion over there."
"Are you well enough to walk?" he asked, voice thick with concern.
"Of course I am, silly. I said I just wanted to be babied. Now I want to be with my friends, before Doug hogs all my attention." She winked impishly at him.
"As you wish," he smiled, and carefully put her on her feet. "If you are well enough, there is something I would like you to do, if you are up to it."
"Sure, bro, what do you need?"
He leaned over and whispered into her ear. She nodded and grinned, and then went over to the group hug surrounding Doug. Piotr then reverted to human form, and immediately staggered forward.
Kitty was there, slipping into the crook of his arm and steadying him. "Whoa there, big guy, I got you."
"So you do." He glanced over at his sister, who twitched her left hand even as Roberto had lifted her in a huge bearhug. "The question, I suppose, is how long you will want an oaf like me."
She blinked at him, "Peter, this is a helluva time to be having relationship doubts."
"Nyet!" he said, quickly. "I think that came out wrong. I never seem to get the words right, with you. No words seem good enough. But when I was trapped in Belasco's nightmare, I became certain of just one thing." He paused, furrowing his eyebrows in concentration, trying to get the words right. "I love you, Katya, and I know that I will for the rest of my life." He slid his arm from around her, and grasped both of her hands in his. "So tiny," he remarked, "but so strong. I want, I need your strength in my life."
He sank to one knee, and held out his hand. There was the flash of a tiny teleportation circle, and a small ring fell into his palm. "My dearest Ekaterina – Katherine Anne Pryde – you have been my truest friend. You have saved my life, and enriched my soul. You have shown me love as I have never imagined, and your heart is a masterpiece to the entire world. This ring belonged to my mother." He paused, the ring hovering before her finger. "Would you do me the honor of wearing it? Will you marry me? Will you be my wife?"
Kitty was momentarily stunned, not quite believing what was happening. Rachel arched an eyebrow at her, wondering if she'd have to remind her to breathe, or even push the ring onto her finger telekinetically. The answer, of course, was obvious; it was all over her thoughts. Ororo, standing next to Rachel and seeing her impatience, put a gentle hand on her arm, letting her know that Kitty, the daughter of her heart, would not be found wanting.
"Yes!" Kitty cried out, leaping from her reverie and sliding the ring into place. "Oh Piotr, of course I'll marry you!"
She pulled him to his feet, and then leapt into his arms, kissing him fiercely.
Yes, thought Scott. Times like these made it all worthwhile.
A/N: Another fic finally finished. Wow. This one, like Kit's Laughing, was both labor and love. I really love these characters and I hope I've done them justice, and given them the happy ending they never seem to get in the comics.
Thanks to all the folks at the kiotr livejournal community for their support and patience. Thanks especially to my beta, Amokitty, for catching my typoes and awkwardness. You've been an absolute wonder. And thanks to you, the reader, for taking the time. I really hope you had as much fun (or more - you never get reader's block, do you?) as I did.
I've already started a third story. No promises on when the first chapters will be posted, just saying.