Disclaimer: All characters forthwith contained in this tale belong to Marvel. I am naughtily using them without permission, but I am angelically making no profit from spinning this tale. The tale contained herein belongs to me. It is all good clean, yet very odd fun.
Continuity: This tale takes place after the Excalibur special Mojo Mayhem but well before issues 46 + 47 of the adjectiveless X-Men.
Special thanks to uncola [wherever he is] for giving me this idea and Leary for the beta.
This is dedicated to the one, true Shatterstar-o-phile, known to me as Ivannova Sabbunny . . . er Sabia, who always wanted this piece to be written. ... Really. ... I'm not lying. ... She won't kill me for writing this. ... Honestly. ... Why do you look like you're still doubting me? ... *sigh* Okay, she might whap me mightily with an umbrella for this but, well I'll just be sure to run awfully fast. :)
Growing Up, Mojoworld Style
By: Beverly McIntyre
Beady, yellow eyes watched the numbers scroll down the screen in front of his bulbous head. His eggshell yellow skin radiated with an eerie light as his bulky body leaned away from the screen. His four chins quavered slightly in anger. He stroked one taloned finger down one chin, down the next, then the next, and finally slipping off the final blubbery fold of skin. He snapped his fingers before tearing away the printout spewing out near the spiderylegs of his only means of conveyance. His eyes were perpetually held open by three wires tugging back on the oily, light yellow skin holding back the folds of skin, letting him watch eternally. The braids of wire cords trailed down his back, past his rounded shoulders as he bent over the printout.
It confirmed as much as he thought. "DOMO!"
Mojo's voice echoed down the multiple hallways leading out from his throne room of entertainment.
There was a slight rustle from one of the darkened corners of the room. "Here, o'corpulent one."
A tall, skinny man stepped out of the shadows he had been taking a slight rest in. He rubbed his violet eyes before assuming his normal stance of dispassionate disinterest. Just sometimes the glare from the multiple televisions mounted all over the room got to him. Not that Major Domo would ever admit that to Mojo. For what life was there outside of entertainment?
"Domo, this is pathetic. These . . . these little miscreants aren't bringing in the ratings. They should be trouncing the opposition, not barely squeezing by . . ."
"Is it their fault, o' magnanimous one, that you counterprogrammed an X-Men special against them? We know the masses tune into anything with the actual X-Men in it."
"That's no excuse. These X-Babies should be canceled."
"That may be too harsh a step, Most Magnificent Programmer."
Mojo slowly turned from the screens monitoring the ratings. His eyes glowed balefully in the dim illumination from the screens. "What was that?"
Major Domo retained his outward calm and arched an eyebrow. "That would be too harsh a step. We know that the X-Babies are a draw. They may not always trounce their opponents, but they do always win their timeslot. May I humbly suggest a retooling? Keeping the X-Babies that make the best ratings and canceling the rest? Possibly getting different X-Babies to fill in the holes?"
Mojo scowled at Domo, before suddenly getting an inspired look. He rubbed one of his chins thoughtfully. "How about we retool the X-Babies? Keep the ones making the best ratings cancel those that don't. Updating the roster. What do you think, Domo?"
"A magnificent idea, Lord of Televised Media."
"Glad I came up with it," Mojo preened. "Now we need to decide who ends up on the cutting room floor and who gets a renewed contract."
"Well, according to the individual ratings, we will be keeping Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Colossus, and the most popular of the bunch, Longshot."
"AAAAUUUUUUUUGGGGGGG! Domo, _never_ mention that name again. That spined ingrate will be the first to go. I give him everything: a dressing room, his own trailer, personal make-up artists, fame, fortune, movie deals, a cut of the merchandising profits, and what does he do? He goes and leads a rebellion against me!"
"Quite ungrateful of him. So, who will you task to dispatch these X-Babies?"
Mojo paced his hall of monitors. "Well, this requires a graceful, yet deadly touch. I know of somebody whose ratings have been sagging and could use a boosting. This requires you to take a trip to the Body Shoppe."
Major Domo paused outside the archway. He idly watched the light streaming out of the open entrance dance as crackles of electricity sent the synthesized hair on his arms on end. He was uncertain on how to proceed. The woman on the other side of the open archway was mad, in more ways than one. Her mercurial attitude gave Domo more unease than he would rather admit.
It was always much safer to deal with her in the broadcast room. At least there, he had Mojo to help cajole her. At the most, he had a giant blob in a chair that he could hide behind if things got out of control. Domo, loath to admit it, worked best when his source of power was standing nearby. It was beside the fact Mojo got nearly the entire brunt of Spiral's rage while Domo stood back.
However, Mojo had tasked him, and Domo dared not fail. Nothing so simple as relaying orders to a madwoman . . .
Carefully, he stepped forward into the Body Shoppe.
As he passed over the threshold, he spotted Spiral standing directly across from him, her back to the door. She wore a sleeveless white shirt, her six arms appearing slightly reddish against the material. As a spark of something snapped down from overhead, Domo could see the glint off of her metallic arm. She bent over a metallic table. Odd bits of tubing and wiring rose toward the ceiling from its surface. Two of her arms were fiddling with something lying on the table as the other four appeared to randomly pull on various cords and levers around her. The Mistress of the Wildways leaned forward as another crack of energy exploded, emitting a bright flash and, if Domo wasn't imagining things, a squeak of pain.
Domo cleared his throat, trying to catch her attention. He was not going to stand around in her little domain any longer than he had to.
Spiral straightened up and rolled her shoulders back, trying to relieve the kink that was starting to form between her shoulder blades. She glanced over behind her and smirked. "Ah. Domo's come to play Mojo's dog."
"Lord Mojo desires your services," Domo said calmly. He would be written into a bad soap opera before he would ever admit any trepidation in front of this woman. She fed on that as much as Mojo fed on ratings.
Spiral turned toward him, revealing what was on the metal table. A man lay there, writhing against the various tubes and wires probed into him. A viscous green liquid dripped down one of the tubes and into the man at a juncture right below his left eye. "He needs you improved?"
Domo caught her wolfish grin. She would love nothing more than to tinker with me, he thought. A chance to play a small power game with Mojo. "Hardly. The X-Babies are going through some cast changes. Mojo politely demands that you deal with the contract terminations."
Spiral snorted. "Politely? That bloated bag of mucus knows nothing of politeness."
"Are you interested?"
Spiral gave it a moment's thought. "No," she said simply before turning back to the table. She grabbed a crackling wire and plunged it down into the torso of her "creation." Domo actually felt pity for the man as he writhed.
"Even with the possibility of canceling the young Longshot with your own hands?" Domo watched Spiral pause.
Domo was surprised by her tone. He expected some malice or hatred, not uncertainty. If Domo had not known better, he would have sworn that Spiral still harbored some small flicker for the blond hero.
"Not him personally," Domo continued carefully, "but the babyfied version of him that is currently under the care of Ricochet Rita."
Domo watched Spiral tense and slowly turn back toward him. Her eyes had narrowed to a dangerous level. The blue in her eyes chilled to the point where Domo thought he would get frostbite on all of his exposed skin.
"Any particular way the bloat wants them canceled?"
Domo tried not to smirk. "Mojo's only stipulation is that you leave some of the X-Babies for renewal. Your inventiveness with the remainder is of no concern to him."
Spiral looked thoughtful. "The bloat isn't going to televise this, rot his eyes."
Domo shifted ever so slightly. If she did not accept, he had a feeling Mojo would send him to do the deed. Domo loathed manual labor. He opened his mouth to say something, anything outside of begging to get her to accept, but she looked at him with an intensity that made him shut it.
"I don't need ratings for this. Who gets renewed?"
This would be the first sentence. Due to concessions from Mojo just to keep his stars on for another year, the X-Babies now resided in a small chateau with their agent/guardian Ricochet Rita. The house sprawled across an almost too picturesque scene of rolling, green hills. Too bad the backdrop was starting to droop under the intense lighting that pervaded this nook of the Mojoverse. The green hills were slowly becoming jade streams of polluted canvas.
However, the interior of the chateau was alive with action. Or at least the playroom was.
"Havok is a doodeyhead!"
"Am not! Am not!"
"Wanna say that again, skunk-head?"
"Ah am NOT a skunk-head! Sides Wolvy, yer the one who stinks."
*sniffsniff* "Do not!"
"Do too! When's the last time ya had a bath?"
"Indeed, Wolverine, when was the last time? How can somebody with your nose stand the stinkiness?" ,the childlike Storm asked as she looked up from her sandbox.
Wolverine looked over at Storm and glowered. "Hmph. Stoopid girls."
"Ha! Ah'm good!" Rogue pumped her fists in the air as Wolverine stalked over to a dark corner to play with his action figures, muttering the entire time about stinky girls. Rogue caught sight of Longshot sitting amongst some blocks, trying to build a castle complete with turrets. She grinned and took a step toward him only to find a Dazzler in the way. "Oh. Hiya Dazz."
"Where do you think you're going?"
"Gonna sit next to my boyfriend and help him build our castle."
"Say that again, skunk-head," Dazzler said as she defiantly crossed her arms across her chest.
Longshot looked up as Rogue and Dazzler started another scuffle over him. He momentarily thought of breaking them up but the rumble in his tummy overrode that instinct. Rita did say he could have a cookie whenever he got hungry. In fact, Longshot would almost bet she was in the kitchen making up everybody's snack.
He carefully got up, being careful not to topple his fifteen minutes' worth of hard work. Quickly and quietly, he slipped out the door into the darker part of the house. He slowly walked down the hallway, big blue eyes looking into every shadow for any possible boogeymen. Both of his tiny hearts beat faster as he heard a slight thump. His tiny feet picked up their pace. If he got to the kitchen, he'd find Rita and everything would be okay. Rita always protected him. Even when Rogue and Dazzler were at their grabbiest.
He whipped around the corner as fast as his two legs could take him until he ran into something solid. He stumbled backward, rubbing his nose. Looking up, he caught the slight glint off of Spiral's helmet as she turned to face him.
"Well, well. What have we got here?" As Spiral faced him, Longshot caught a glimpse of an unmoving Rita lying in the middle of the kitchen with a corona of chocolate chip cookies spread around her. Spiral reached out to snag the childclone by his hair. "A Longshot. Bet you can't break just one."
Longshot dodged to the side as her hand shot passed his head. He tucked and rolled forward, between her legs. The blond hero came to a halt just short of the splash of Rita's raven-colored hair. He twisted around with a couple of throwing spikes in hand. "What have you done to Rita?"
"Nothing she hasn't done to me, pipsqueak."
"You'll pay for this," Longshot snarled as he threw his spikes.
Spiral danced to the side as the spikes flew past her head. "I pay for this every time I see you, spined twerp. Hold still and this will be over quick-ARG!" Spiral clapped a hand over the small gash in her arm. Red blood trickled out from underneath four fingers. "Rot your eyes!"
Longshot lunged forward with another handful of throwing spikes at the ready. Spiral sidestepped and brought one fist straight down into his back. Longshot let out a low "wholnf" as he hit the floor. He rolled away as Spiral's booted foot snapped through the spot where his side had been. Snagging a stray action figure that had been left in the hallway, Longshot flung Captain Kaboom at Spiral's eyes. She flinched slightly as one hand snaked up and snatched the figurine out of the air. She reached up with another arm and tore the figure apart as Longshot pushed himself to his feet. On the very edges of his vision, he caught Rita starting to move. Both of his hearts sang as he backed down the hallway.
Rita was alive! She may have been a little hurt, but she was alive. Longshot aimed to keep her that way as he darted down the hallway. He needed to get some reinforcements.
Wolverine looked up from the epic battle between Commander Boomshakalaka and the evil minions of Tome. He sniffed the air. Outside of the stink both Dazz and Rogue were raising over Longshot, he smelled an acrid odor. He smiled to himself as he got to his feet and popped his tiny claws. "Ohboy! We got company."
Sniffing his way toward the lone door to the playroom, Wolverine caught the attention of most of the rest of the X-Babies. Dazz and Rogue were still wrestling over whose boyfriend Longshot was. As the kid Wolverine reached for the doorknob, he was knocked back as the door burst open. Longshot rolled in, narrowly being missed by a sword that imbedded itself in the door frame. Spiral savagely yanked the sword out of the wood and charged forward.
"Hey! Leave my boyfriend alone!" *Zzarct!* Dazzler and Rogue had managed to stop wrestling long enough to notice that the love of their lives was in peril. However, Rogue now looked incredulously at Dazzler.
"Your boyfriend? Who says?
"I do. And he is."
"He is not."
"He is too."
"Is not! Is not!"
"Is too! Is too!"
"Girls!" Psylocke scolded. "Don't you think you should hold off on that?"
"Is not! Is not! Is not! Is not! Is not! Is not!"
"Is too! Is too! Is too! Is too! Is too! Is too!"
Spiral grinned. "Keep arguing, dearies. . . ."
*Zzapt!* Havok lowered his slightly smoking hands. "Step back, lady."
Spiral snarled at the diminutive miscreant. She took a twirling step forward and appeared behind the black-clad X-Baby. She plunged a clear, crystal rod into the small of Havok's back. The tiny Alex let out a small "meep" before disappearing in a wisp of black smoke. Spiral slid the now black crystal into a tiny pocket in her bandolier. "You're canceled, little man."
"Hey! That's no fair!"
Spiral did a delicate sidestep through the fabric of current reality and appeared behind the cloaked Psylocke. Another clear rod appeared in one of her other hands. Spiral jabbed the rod down into the purple-haired girl's shoulder. Psylocke had the chance for a small gasp just before she became a purple wisp of smoke. Spiral had just put the purple crystal right next to the black one when she rocked back on her heels as a small lightning bolt struck her in the center of her chest. She snarled at the lilliputian weather goddess as she tried her best to ignore the burning pain.
"X-Babies," Storm commanded, "pull back. Let's give ourselves more space to maneuver."
Spiral sneered at the tiny leader and whipped a cancellation rod at her. The clear rod sailed straight and true until it a small throwing spike knocked it wide. Longshot danced out of the way as Spiral snarled and threw a clear rod at him.
Colossus, spotting an opening, dashed forward, small, metal feet shaking the floor slightly. Spiral had enough time to turn before she found a miniature metal men ramming straight into her stomach. She grunted as the air left her body. Colossus' legs continued to pump, driving Spiral toward the back wall.
"Go, comrades. I will keep her busy," Colossus managed to shout over his shoulder before he and Spiral went through the wall.
"Awwright!" Wolverine cheered as he popped his mini-claws. "Tinboy's got the right idea."
"Wolvy, fall back with the rest of us," Storm commanded as she swooped toward the dark hallway. "Piotr can handle things for now."
"But-" Wolverine started to protest.
"Aww. That poots." Wolverine reluctantly backed toward the hallway as the rest of the X- Babies scrambled toward the doorway. Longshot vaulted over a rocking horse while Rogue sped just over Wolverine's head. Dazzler had made it halfway there before an errant rollerskate rolled under one of her feet. Dazzler's leg shot forward without the rest of her. She teetered for a second before crashing chin-first to the floor.
Longshot paused in midstride as Dazz got up to her knees and rubbed her chin. "Owowow."
Rogue caught sight of her beloved turning to go help that dauntless floozy. Rogue stopped in midair and called back to the blond cutie. "Longshot, c'mon! Dazz is an X-Baby! She can get herself up by herself!"
Longshot didn't have much time to react when Colossus shot right out of the rubble and smashed down right where Longshot had been standing. Luckily, Longshot had quick enough reflexes to leap out of the way and behind a jumble of blocks. He peeked out just in time to see Spiral pull herself out of the rubble.
She sneered as Colossus got to his feet and charged her again. She spun as the diminutive muscle-boy got near. A hand latched onto his large belt, using his momentum to carry him past and then around her. Colossus whipped around Spiral, feet kicking wildly in the air before he ended up flying toward the ceiling above his comrades.
Colossus hit the ceiling with a hearty crash, causing the wood and plaster to rain down on his fellow X-Babies. Storm, Rogue, and Wolverine became buried under the debris. Spiral dusted off her hands triumphantly.
"Looks like it's just you and me, Longshot."
"Hey!" Dazz said indignantly from the floor. Why was it everybody forgot about her?
Spiral snorted and moved two steps forward. Dazz tried to backpedal but Spiral grabbed a large hank of her hair. Dazz whimpered as Spiral yanked her head backwards. The six-armed lunatic carefully traced a cancellation rod across the tiny songstress' throat.
"I'll make this easy on you, hero-boy. The girl or the heroics." Longshot stared at the dancer, not believing the choice he was faced with. He checked over his shoulder, but none of his buried friends in the hall had managed to appear out of the rubble. If he didn't do something soon, Dazz would be canceled for sure. He looked back at Spiral, staring into those hard, blue eyes. He reached for his satchel. Spiral watched, rather unimpressed, as the satchel thudded to the ground in front of her. "Wrong choice."
Spiral jabbed the cancellation rod into Dazz's throat. The X-Baby disappeared in a blue puff of smoke.
"NO! You lied! You big mea-ACK!"
Spiral crossed the room within the span of one heartbeat, hoisting the tiny Longshot off the floor by his neck. Tiny, four-fingered hands grabbed the metallic hand and tried to pry himself out of her grip. Spiral smiled wickedly as Longshot's face started to turn blue.
"I've always wanted to see what happens when I choke the life out of you. . . ."
A small explosion behind Spiral tossed the dimension dancer forward, stumbling to keep her footing. She checked over her shoulder to see four X-Babies emerge out of the hallway rubble. A frantic-looking Storm screeched as she finally got all the timbers off of her. The tiny goddess turned toward Spiral, fear pushing her large, blue eyes toward a state of utter panic.
Keeping a firm hold on Longshot's throat, Spiral began a simple dance to take care of the rejuvenated menace. She'd gotten the ones she needed to. Spiral twirled away from a streak of lightning, keeping the dance going. She reached into a hip pouch with one arm while the other non-occupied four weaved complex patterns amongst themselves. With a bright flash, a handful of sand flew into the midst of the four X-Babies.
Wolverine staggered forward. "Not without my bink-zzz."
Three small bodies thudded against the floor as tiny snores escaped from Wolverine, Rogue, and Colossus. Storm floated higher, the wild look still in her eye.
Maybe burying her under rubble wasn't a wise idea. But I don't have time for this, Spiral thought with a grimace. Mojo's agents would be showing up shortly. Snatching the satchel still on the floor, Spiral flung the satchel toward the miniature windrider. Spiral had never expected to actually connect, but when Storm hit the floor with a loud thump followed by a soft snore, she smirked.
"Your luck's contagious, little one. But we'll have to finish this at my place." Spiral sidestepped reality and teleported to her Body Shoppe with a struggling Longshot in hand.
Spiral appeared back in her Body Shoppe, an unconscious Baby Longshot slung over a shoulder. He had begun to struggle halfway between the X-Baby chateau and here. Spiral had smacked him against the nearest convergence in time/space at that junction. It had been interesting to watch his synapses misfire through his eyes.
The gurgling heap of flesh on the table screeched as some tubes snaked down and wrapped around its torso. Tubes also restrained the swollen hands that grasped desperately at the menagerie of tubes dripping into its body. The bloated being was pulled toward the ceiling and laid on a floating platform. It gurgled in pain as the tubing wound around tightly, securing it to the platform for later experimentation. A large, flat tube slithered down to the vacated table and began sucking up all liquids left all over the table. As Spiral approached the table, the tube retreated into the ceiling, leaving a dry table.
Spiral carefully swung the unconscious X-Baby off her shoulder and set him on the table. She brushed a few strands of blond hair out of his face. She traced a finger down his cheek before turning away.
The Mistress of the Wildways sauntered over to a set of cluttered shelves, pulling three colored rods out of a pocket. She carefully placed them in a small tray, not wanting to crack one and let out any of the essences. Those bodies would be good to experiment on later. The mini X-Men should prove to stand up longer than most of her test subjects. In fact, all Spiral could do was improve them, the little spined sacks of piss.
Turning back toward the table and the unconscious Longshot, Spiral heard a burst of static behind her. Whirling, two hands dropped into spell casting gestures while a third hand reached for a sword. The television across from her flickered to life with a giant, yellow head peering at her. If Mojo didn't look like a Pikachu on crack, Spiral would actually feel calmer about this invasion of her sanctum.
The beckoned woman winced at the volume of her summons. Couldn't the bloat be quiet? "What do you want, Mojo?"
"Is it done? The cast changes were enforced?"
"It's done," Spiral sneered as her hand dropped away from the sword. Her two lower hands staying in their same positions.
"Oh goody! Now, I can retool this into a lean, mean ratings-eating machine. The demographics are good for the timeslot. Just need to find the proper heavy." Mojo eyed Spiral through the screen. "Hmm."
"Oh, Spiiiiraaaal! I've just remembered that I have been remiss in allowing you the proper screen time. Now, rather than reneg on your lovely contract, you could be the heavy. There's a lot of spotlight to be had."
"I'll think about it."
"Think? Think?!? What's there to think about? Fame, fortune, and ratings are yours to be had. The spotlight is yours for the taking."
"I'll. Think. About. It." Spiral jabbed forward with a finger and shut the screen off. She turned away just as the screen blew out at her. Snarling at the pain from multiple shards of glass embedding in her skin, she turned toward a small screen flickering to life near her temple.
Mojo's eyes burned with dark menace. "Don't ever touch that dial again."
Spiral finally managed to walk away from the small television screen with a raging headache. She rubbed her temples and snarled in annoyance. Mojo had given her no other option. She would be the nemesis for the new X-Babies. She'd rather not get embarrassed by pint-sized heroes because she had a hard enough time with the regular-sized ones. Stopping in front of the empty table, her snarl deepened into a throaty growl. Spinning on her heel, she stalked toward the open archway out of her Body Shoppe, the only way Longshot could have escaped.
Longshot watched the pair of booted feet walk past him as he nestled further back in the space between a stack of empty cages. He waited until Spiral had walked closer to the archway before starting to crawl out on his belly. He had made it halfway to the small opening he had crawled in through when something snatched one of his booted feet.
Long talons sunk into the leather as Longshot was dragged backwards. Looking behind him, glowing, yellow teeth gnashed together. Longshot scrambled to grab something, anything. The bars were too close together on the nearby cages for him to find any purchase. He tried kicking the clawed hands but found he didn't have enough room to draw his foot back to deliver one. His fingers clawed frantically at the floor, scraping the tips of his fingers raw.
With a human snarl, the cages over Longshot's head disappeared. The crash across the room attested where the cages landed. Anger dancing in her eyes, Spiral raised her sword. Longshot cowered, fearing the blow about to land on his head. He quivered slightly as he heard the meaty thunk and the screech of pain. He felt himself lifted out of the cages and carried back over to the table.
Longshot peeked out from between his fingers to see Spiral removing the hairy arm still clinging to his boot. She threw it at the cage with a whimpering creature cringing toward the rear, clutching the bleeding stump. The limb bounced off the cage, sending brown ichor all over the creature.
Spiral turned back toward Longshot. "Are you hurt?"
He blinked up at her.
She left out a gruff snort and grabbed the boot. Setting the sword aside, dexterous fingers rolled up the pant leg. She revealed four bleeding puncture wounds. Shaking her head, she grabbed some rags and bandaged up his wounds. "Is there anywhere else?"
Longshot tilted his head curiously at Spiral and offered up his fingertips. She set aside the rags and passed a hand over them. The minor healing spell made the flesh appear as good as new.
Longshot's brow furrowed at the tender way her fingers lingered on his. "Spiral, do you like me?"
Spiral stared down at the diminutive Mojoworlder. Her lips curled into a sneer and she raised an arm as if to strike him. Longshot reacted the only way he knew how, shielding his head and face from the pending blow. Spiral's hand hung in the air before slowly lowering itself back down. With a five-fingered hand, she reached over and gently brushed his cheek, feeling the leathery skin that often haunted her dreams.
Longshot slowly lowered his arms and blinked once more at the six-armed woman. The same woman who had charged into his home and canceled his friends was now displaying signs of infinite tenderness. He saw tears welling in the corners of her eyes. He stood up on the table as one streaked down her cheek. Staring her straight in the eye, he gently rubbed the tear away. "You need a hug."
Throwing any bad feelings he had toward his former nemesis, Longshot reached over and wrapped his arms around her neck. His head rested on her chest, feeling the rhythmic in and out of her breath. He stood like that for a minute, just offering comfort for whatever he or any counterpart had done to hurt her.
When Longshot snuggled closer, Spiral slowly picked her arms up from her sides. Wrapping all six arms around the child-sized Longshot, she cocooned him against her, for once she reveled in his touch. It had been so abominably long. . . .
It had been seven weeks in Mojoverse reckoning that Spiral managed to hide Longshot within the confines of her Body Shoppe from Mojo. With the relative safety of the Body Shoppe, Spiral kept a watchful eye on Longshot. Many a time had she returned from taping a new show for the X-Babies series to find, to her surprise, that Longshot was still in the Shoppe, usually cleaning some corner or shelving unit. She knew the greatest of all programmers would kill the child duplicate of his archenemy. Her fears were more than confirmed when Mojo himself showed up at her Shoppe, raving like a lunatic.
"You traitor!" A blast of pure energy shot out of Mojo's hand. It blew the part of the floor Longshot had been standing on straight into the ceiling. Longshot had just landed from leaping out of the way when Mojo aimed another at him. Spiral lunged at Mojo, knocking his arm and the blast wide. "Down, puppet," Mojo snarled as he knocked Spiral clear. "I'll deal with you later."
Mojo forced Longshot into a corner with a series of blasts. Longshot looked around for any means of escape as the serpentine back of Mojo's straightened up and then pointed at the child X- Man's chest. Just before a deadly volley of flechettes loosed themselves, Spiral teleported between Mojo and Longshot.
"Gaveedra!" Spiral gasped as the flechettes pounded into her back. She stumbled forward, picking the child up in her arms. She let the last of the incantation past her lips as she twirled out of the Shoppe.
Mojo snarled at the suddenly empty corner. "You, Spiral, just canceled your entire career."
Spiral fell out of her teleportation, landing somewhere in the center of the gladiatorial pits. She winced in pain as she picked herself off of the tiny form below her. Longshot looked worriedly at her, flechettes bristling out of her back.
"You're hurt. Let me help you," he said as he began to pull himself to his feet.
"No, there's no time. Mojo will be here shortly. Not to mention any of the bred fighters. Then we'll be no better than the fool we landed on." Spiral gestured to the bloody corpse they had managed to land on.
Longshot looked down at what his booted feet were standing on. He noticed the whitish intestine slightly looped around the toe of his boot. He gasped and danced backwards, off the corpse. Crystal blue eyes looked up at Spiral as blood dripped off of his hair. "What do we do?"
"We need to hide you," Spiral stepped over the corpse and took his face in two of her hands. "Gaveedra, my beloved child, I have enough magics to hide you from Mojo, but I may never get back to these pits to take you home."
"I want to stay with you."
Spiral looked down into those blue eyes and ached. "I want you to as well, but there is no way to keep you safe. I'm weak as it is. You must assent to these magics. I don't have enough strength to force them on you."
"Gaveedra," Spiral warned. "I can no longer protect you. Mojo will have a harder time of finding you in these gladiatorial pits. You'll be in front of him, entertaining the crowds. I can't avoid that. But you'll grow strong, beloved child. Strong enough to free the people, to free me." Spiral reached over and took his jacket. Carefully, she ripped the eight-pointed star from the chest. She handed him the leather patch and tossed the jacket to the ground. "This star is your guide. Don't let it fall from the sky and break against the rubble Mojo has made. You may have fallen, my shattered star, but it is you who will finally free us."
"What will you do?" ,Longshot asked as he idly traced the largest point of the star.
"I'll take your eternal youthfulness. You'll have to grow up in the pits. The rest will be small changes."
"Do it then. Mojo will pay for all of this."
Spiral nodded tersely and carefully began to dance. The flechettes in her back added more caution to her movements. Longshot watched as a bright light emerged from his chest and wrapped around Spiral's arms. The flechettes slowly dropped out of her back, and the dance picked up speed. The corpse at Longshot's feet began to dance on a tide of magical energy.
Longshot backed up a step as his glowing eye flared to life. Spiral's dance leached the light from his eye, burning the star pattern around his eye. The blood in Longshot's hair spread and dyed. He shook his reddish blond mane as a bright flash made him stumble backwards.
When his vision cleared, Longshot saw the corpse at his feet had disappeared. As had Spiral. Longshot took stock of himself, he was still the same age, but physically different. He felt heavier, and he'd picked up an additional finger on each hand.
Before he could inspect himself any further, he heard a loud group approaching. He looked around for any weapon to defend himself. Longshot saw no throwing spikes anywhere, but the double bladed sword that had been in the corpse's hand was still on the ground. He snatched it up just as a group of gladiators rounded the corner.
"Well, well. What have we got here? Looks like a little kid lost his mommy."
Longshot stood grimly and held his sword at the ready.
"Looks like he wants a fight. How about we give it to him, boys?"
There were a few shouted assents before the group charged en masse.
Longshot had managed to hold his own, but quickly the sheer numbers were beating him back. When his back hit the wall of the pit, he knew he was in trouble. Fighting with a new vigor, he managed to fell one more foe before being disarmed. As his sword flew across the pit, the hilt of another sword crashed into the back of his head.
Before the ground could rush up at him, the world went black.
The throbbing pain in the back of his skull brought him back to the land of the living. He slowly opened his blue eyes to look into the haggard face of one of his attackers.
"He's alive!" the man shouted over his shoulder.
The man was thrown out of the way by a much bigger man. Longshot felt the big man take his pulse. "Hmm. Strong. Got a name, kid?"
Longshot's head swam in pain. Memories of the past seven weeks sped behind his eyes. "Yeah, Gaveedra-7. But most people call me Shatterstar."
"Well, Shatterstar, you've got some moves on you. Since you've downed one of my number for good, I'd thought I'd offer you his place in my pack."
Shatterstar winced as he sat up, pain lancing down his neck. "And if I refuse?"
"I kill you." The large man grinned. Shatterstar felt no comfort from that feral grin. "It'd be quicker than letting you run lose in the pits. You'd be dead come morning. Look, it's this simple. You need the skills to keep yourself alive; we can provide that. We need another person to work the frontline; you can be that. What do you say?"
Shatterstar slowly got to his feet, glancing at the star-dotted sky overhead. He looked down at the crouching man. "It's a deal."