Chapter 33: Getting into the Game!
Disclaimer: I do not own any Marvel characters or logos. This story is for fun, not profit.
Wilson Fisk tapped his fingers together while eying his minion pensively. They had been holding up in the Pow-R8 building since the collapse of the Kingpin's criminal empire, along with Fisk Enterprises and his philanthropic connections. This obscure company was all he had left following that ill-fated day when Silvermane and his Maggia instigated that Gang War, although knowing HYDRA was to blame only made things worse.
"So, has the formula finally reached perfection?" he questioned the man standing before him.
Herbert Landon took out his research notes. "I believe we have uncovered the ultimate weapon against mutant kind through the application of my life's work. Due to the large amount of public resentment towards that population of freaks, this is bound to be a highly profitable business venture worthy of our attention."
"You mean a venture worthy of my attention." The Kingpin corrected him, his glare becoming more pronounced as he bore down on the smaller man. "Do no forget that you work for me, and would never have had the research money to finish this project without my funding."
The deformed man winced slightly before flipping another page over. "Indeed, all we need now is a living research subject to test it out on. Once we have recorded the results, we can use the Pow-R8 Corporation to mass-produce and market the substance to the rest of the world. It is fortunate that the Xavier Institute is so close at hand."
"We know from past experience that the mutants of that school have trained to use their powers to fight. Considering that they participated in the defeat of Doctor Octopus and the Rhino, I believe the capture of these children would prove most challenging for my remaining enforcers."
"Which is why I prepared this time." The mad scientist replied with a smug expression.
No sooner had he said this that the door on the other end of the room burst open, revealing a tall buxom woman with noticeably muscle tone and long reddish-blonde hair. She wore what appeared to be a long sleeved form-fitting dark purple leotard with an opening in the front, revealing her ample cleavage and long slender hands. Her large hips and thighs were exposed while a set of stylish matching boots covered her lower legs. A purple mask adorned her eyes, and she a decorative golden belt wrapped around her waist.
Landon gestured to the newcomer. "As you can see, I made certain to hire a professional in case we needed some extra muscle."
The crime lord watched her with a thoughtful expression, his eyes moving up and down over their visitor. Although Wilson Fisk was generally familiar with the super villain population, he had never encountered this particular woman before. "And who might you be, young lady?"
"They call me Titania!" She replied with an air of supreme confidence.
Kingpin nodded slowly as if he were still considering. "I see… And what exactly can you do?"
The woman smiled as if she had just been handed the most powerful weapon in the world. Raising her fist into the air she punched the nearby wall, shattering the steel-enforced, sound-proof barriers without minimal effort. The steel barricade broke into a shower of metal splinters, and the layers of concrete and plaster surrounding place her fist made contact had been reduced to a thin layer of dust. Reaching into the hole, she then pulled a cinderblock out of the wall with her bare hands and tossed it into the air, reducing it to a pile of debris with a well-placed kick.
Wilson Fisk was slightly surprised by her sudden display of power, even his own strength paling considerably in comparison to what he had just witnessed. The surrounding walls of his office were made purposely with the intention of keeping out super-powered menaces, and this stranger had effortlessly smashed through them with her bare hands. Despite how troublesome he found her attitude, the display was still impressive.
"You seem to be a strong one." The crime lord mused with mild satisfaction.
"No man or woman has the strength to match me in a contest of power!" Titania boasted with a proud expression, gently resting her hands on her hips as she did so. "My endurance and stamina is unparalleled."
"You can see that she's perfect for the job, and obviously more than a match for any of those filthy mutants!" the mad scientist added with growing anticipation. "Surely you must agree?"
The Kingpin sat back in his seat and considered them for a moment before giving his answer. "I appreciate the value of power, but if there is one thing that I have learned over the years, it is that real power comes from more than brute strength."
A look of outrage crossed her features for a second. "I could kill you with a single strike if I wanted to, old man."
"Doubtful…" the crime lord replied with a calm expression, his face displaying few signs of concern. Despite her abundant overconfidence, Wilson Fisk had not dismissed the notion that she could be quite useful. "Very well then, I am willing to hire you depending on the fees. Perhaps you would like to make an offer?"
Titania collapsed onto the couch in front of his desk and put her feet up. "That depends what kind of job we're talking about. I've got expensive tastes, but I'm not picky."
Her prospective employer inclined his head with a look of interest. "The mission is quite simple… We need you to capture a mutant so that my team of scientists can have a living subject for experimentation. With your abilities I have no doubt that you are capable of this much, but you must also bring the target back here without anyone noticing."
"I'm fine when it comes time to killing and stealing, but this convert crap doesn't sound like my kind of thing." She replied with a flick of her wrist, slowly sitting up from her position. "Double the pay, and I might be willing to go along with it."
"You needn't worry about such minor details…" the Kingpin explained with a knowing expression, almost like he had expected he to react this way. "I can send in my agents to transport the subject. In the meantime, all you need to do is follow orders and ensure that your victim is still alive."
"Not a problem." Titania responded with an eager expression. "It doesn't matter what kind of powers these mutants have. None of them are strong enough to pose a threat to me!"
Wilson Fisk waved his hand. "The job is yours… I will personally call you once the strike team has been assembled for this mission. Just remember that those who fail to meet my expectations do not tend to survive for very long."
"You actually think you can kill me?" she asked, seemingly finding humor in his statement.
Rather than dignify her question with an answer, the large man stood up from his seat and headed to the exit behind the desk. "Until further notice, you are dismissed." He replied before closing the door behind him, leaving the villainous and his lead scientist behind in the office.
Once his footsteps died away, Landon addressed her once more. "There is some information that I feel may be important in your complexion of this mission. If you would follow me to the laboratory, we can discuss this further."
"If you insist…" The female villain replied with a casual expression.
"Indeed I do." He added with an evil smirk, his expression looking all the more vindictive due to his mutilated face.
The made scientist lead her from the office and into his workspace, the large tubes of green chemicals immediately catching the eye of his visitor. Titania followed after him without commenting on the strange inventions and mysterious experiments going on within. He eventually led her to a computer situated on the furthered end of the room before motioning for her to stop.
Landon activated the terminal and opened several files on the screen, each featuring different mutants documented as being members of the X-Men. Although the knowledge they possessed on the subject was limited, each profile had a picture and a basic description of the mutant's powers. Since the Kingpin's spy network had been crushed along with his empire, they had compiled most of this information from news reports, footage, and the knowledge they had obtained through their contact with the heroes.
She wasn't particularly interested to know, but asked anyway. "So, what's this about?"
"This particular computer contains information on possible mutants you may encounter while completing this task. I believe it would be smart for you to study this information and prepare yourself for the upcoming mission."
Titania remained unimpressed. "There's no way any mutant could possible defeat me."
"I had a feeling you might say something like that." Her host smiled again before clicking open another profile. "Personally I have a particular interest in the mutant shown here." He pointed to the screen with a green, clawed finger. "I am willing to pay an extra fee if you manage to capture this particular one for my experiment."
"You have a grudge against someone?" she questioned with an uncertain look.
Herbert Landon rubbed his hands together with a purely evil expression. "I prefer to think of it as a shared interest. One might say that it's always wonderful to see an old friend…"
X-23 darted through the forest like a hunter on the prowl, her eyes narrowing dangerously as she smelled the scent of her enemies in the air. Upon arriving in this jungle-like environment, she had run afoul of some mutants that seemed to have been purposely placed here to attack them. Normally she wasn't so easily irritated, but these enemies had proved rather formidable. To make matters worse, her newfound partner seemed to recognize their new enemy and refused to let her kill either of them.
Now trapped in the woods with a certain yellow-clad mutant, Laura was growing tired of having to fight alongside someone who was clearly much less skilled physically and lacked the will to take the lives of their enemies. She had experienced other types of issues while paired with Wolverine, but at least he was a skilled fighter who understood that there were times when people had to do whatever was necessary for survival.
X-23 had begun to experience the full complication that came with joining a team that thrived on teamwork, while she saw teammates as a nuisance and was more efficient by herself. "Will you hurry up already?" the feral girl snapped over her shoulder.
Jubilee pushed a branch aside as she struggled to follow, only for it to smack her in the face. "Do you have to move so fast?" X-23 ignored her and continued her trek into the jungle, prompting an angry reaction from her partner. "Will you slow down and let me… Whoa!"
The yellow-clad mutant tripped over a root, only to be caught by the female Wolverine. The feral girl winced in annoyance before pushing her partner back into a standing position. "Easy there, you could have misplaced my shoulder."
"You're slowing me down!" X-23 stated bluntly, not even bothering to look back at her unwanted teammate as they tore through the forest. "If you don't stop fussing over every little thing, neither of us will survive this ordeal!"
The Chinese-American girl resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Sheesh, you're even grumpier than Logan on his worst day. Maybe if you lightened up, we could both get through this alive."
Wolverine's clone froze in her tracks and paused briefly before shooting an angry glare over her shoulder. "Do you think this is a game?" she hissed impatiently before pressing a finger to her lips. "If you don't stay quiet and keep moving, we'll be caught by the enemy!"
"Considering that neither of us knows our way around this place, we could be doomed either way… How do you even know where we're going?"
Before either of them could say anything else, the sound of crunching footsteps sounded behind them, followed by a figure stepping into the clearing. The newcomer was a tall girl garbed in a form-fitting red outfit and stylish black boots. Her face was gaunt with thick red lips and heavily lidded eyes covered in a thick layer of dark mascara, and short dark hair with the lower portion dyed a deep red color. She also wore a long blood-colored coat with a high collar, a black choker with an Egyptian Ankh pendent hanging from the center, and matching earrings.
"Oh crap, the witch girl found us!" Jubilee screamed, her eyes widening in fear.
"Don't just stand there! Get moving!" Laura shoved her teammate away and readied her claws for the fight, a strong killing intent emanating from the feral girl.
Wanda Maximoff raised her hands in the air, causing a chaotic blue energy to engulf the surrounding trees. A loud rumbling filled the forest as the ground began to quake violently as several of the trees uprooted and crashed to the ground. X-23 stood her ground and slashed a falling tree in half second before it struck her, but the glow from before illuminated the broken logs, causing them to fly back towards her partner.
Leaves scattered in all different directions and broken branches and rocks were dangerously flung into the air. Jubilee broke into a run before rolling across the ground and into a nearby ditch, her teammate following shortly after in an attempt to take cover. Seeing that her partner was already on her feet and fleeing the scene, the yellow-clad girl took off into the trees.
They continued running for another minute or so, but a glance over her shoulder told Jubilee that they were still being followed. "Sheesh, does that girl ever give up?"
The Asian mutant fired a several blasts over her shoulder in an attempt to impede their attacker, but the explosive energy changed direction in mid-air, forcing the two girls to dive to safety. The duo tumbled across the ground and down a hill leading deeper into the forest,
X-23 flipped into the air and righted herself mid-way before casting an angry glare at her unwanted teammate. "Did you miss on purpose, or are you trying to kill us?"
"Well, excuse me! At least one of us is trying tying to accomplish something." She crossed her arms indignantly. "Logan said you were tough, but instead all you've been doing is running like a coward."
"I've never fought an enemy with this kind of power before." Laura turned her back to the girl and continued running through the woods, her teammate following closely behind. "The mutant profiles I studied back in HYDRA listed her as the Scarlet Witch, but there wasn't much else. You were a member of this team before me! Can you tell me anything about her?"
"All I know is that she's a member of a group of mutants called the Brotherhood. I never fought them myself, although Scott and Jean once told me that she has some kind of crazy powers that allow her to manipulate probability. She can do almost anything within the realm of possibility!"
Wolverine's clone bit her lower lip in annoyance and said nothing more as they tore through the rows of trees. She had feared the worst when the battle began, but this was beyond her expertise. Despite her vast combat experience, she had never seen someone with these kinds of abilities. If what her teammate said was true, than most conventional methods were bound to fail in this situation. X-23 thought quickly in order to find a solution, using her claws to cut down several of the larger trees as they ran.
Jubilee paused mid-step, looking slightly confused by the display. "What are you doing?"
The feral girl snarled impatience. "I'm trying to delay her pursuit so you can get away! If you weren't around, I could have finished this by now!" she added bluntly.
"Are you calling me a burden?" she asked with an angry expression.
"The only reason I haven't gone back to take her out is because Logan told me to protect my teammates at any cost." X-23 rationalized without answering. Her eyes moved towards the ground for a second as she remembered her promise to Wolverine. "If I didn't have to worry about you getting hurt, this situation wouldn't be so cumbersome."
Jubilee frowned in response to her comment. "Why not take advantage of my powers instead of ignoring them? Instead of trying to protect me, let me help you!"
"I've always had to fend for myself, and my jobs for HYDRA involved precision and stealth. I was rarely forced to partner with others for fear that they would be liabilities. Fighting alongside someone like you would only dull the effectiveness of my skills…" she rationalized calmly.
"Sheesh! You have no idea what it's like to be a team player, do you?" the Chinese girl fumed.
A loud noise stopped Laura from answering the question as the trees she had chopped down earlier came flying in their direction each enveloped by the eerie blow glow that they had witnessed only minutes ago. Jumping in front of her partner protectively, X-23 stood her ground and began slicing through the incoming tree trunks with machine-like precision, easily scattering the cracked bits of wood in different directions with swift movements of her wrists.
"Your movements are sloppy, and reaction time pitiful!" X-23 pointed out intolerantly.
"I could have handled this by myself if you hadn't jumped in!" the yellow clad girl shot back.
Laura looked suddenly angry, her stone-cold gaze settling on the other girl again. "Don't lie to me… You're the reason that the enemy was able to catch us to begin with!"
Jubilee fired up instantly, her outrage growing by the second. "Oh, so suddenly this is all my fault? What about you cutting down all those trees and blowing our cover?"
"You're the one that wasted my time arguing when we should have been planning our attack!"
The two girls looked as if they were about to attack each other when Scarlet Witch entered the scene, her arms raised in an offensive stance. The ground shook violently as she used her powers on the environment, immediately catching the attention of the bickering X-Men. The fallen leaves scattering the forest floor sprung to life and began circling around as if they had been caught in a whirlwind. Several rocks and stones flung into the air and gravitated towards the duo and began pelting the two girl, forcing Jubilee to crouch down and cover her head. X-23 stood up and ran towards their attacker, her enhanced senses rendering the distractions completely worthless.
She tried to unleash her claws for the kill, but the same blue glow from before enveloped her hands, rendering her unable to use her claws. "What the Hell!" she paused mid-step and held up her fists with a shocked expression.
The distraction cost her as a nearby tree came crashing down. X-23 rolled to avoid it, only to stumble into the path of an oncoming rock. The stone struck her in the forehead, pushing her back onto the ground with a loud plop as another tree fell towards her. She shielded held her arms up in an attempt to shield herself from the impact, but a large series of colorful explosions pushed the falling trunk off course so that it landed harmlessly several yards to her left.
Laura felt a tug as her teammate pulled her into a standing position. "Did you just save me?"
"Yup!" Jubilee gave her a friendly smile, her gaze becoming much more serious only seconds later. "Just because you hate me, doesn't mean I'd sit back and watch you get clobbered. That's what teammates are for."
X-23 paused for a second and carefully considered her words. It was true that she could have easily survived the impact due to her adamantium skeleton, but it was intriguing that someone she had treated with open hostility had gone out of their way to save her. The feral girl's thoughts returned to all those times Wolverine had her back, before shifting to the battle with the Juggernaut when the group had fought together to overcome the unstoppable villain's rampage.
Her pattern of thought was quickly disrupted as the battle came back into focus, forcing her to weave around flying debris hexed by the Scarlet Witch's mutant powers. Jubilee defended again by shooting several sparks from her fingertips forming, the bright explosions forming into complex patterns and shapes as they burst into multi-colored lights.
Using the shower of sparks as a cover, they made a dash for the nearest row of trees. They ran for several minutes, taking a moment to rest behind a nearby bush once they had placed a considerable distance between themselves and the enemy. X-23 sniffed the air and scowled, sensing that Wanda was still pursuing them relentlessly and coming closer by the second. Laura peaked out from behind her hiding place, her eyes narrowing as she watched Scarlet Witch search for them in the nearby brush.
Seeing how her own approach had failed so completely, she swallowed her pride. "The enemy hasn't seen us yet… Do you have some kind of plan in mind to take her out?"
Jubilee looked stunned for a second that the stubborn girl had actually requested her opinion, although for a second it looked as though they were both lost for words. "Well, I was thinking the direct approach might be best." She scratched her chin thoughtfully.
"I tried that just now, and it didn't work!" she hissed through grit teeth, looking as though she regretted asking to begin with.
"That's not what I meant… I noticed how my fireworks confused her back there, so maybe there's a chance we can throw her off balance by attacking at the same time."
X-23 let out a small sigh before reluctantly agreeing. "What do you intend to do?"
"I saw how you handled yourself before, so just jump out there and do your stuff once she's gets close enough. Let me take care of the rest!"
"You failed to explain how doing this would produce different results than before."
"Just trust me!" Jubilee slapped a hand onto her shoulder with a friendly smile, causing Laura to step away with an irritated look. The other girl noticed this response and quickly tried to remedy the situation. "All right, it's like this… I need you to keep her distracted so I can catch her off guard. Once that happens, taking her down should be a cinch."
The feral girl hesitated again, but the sound of the enemy's footsteps helped her make up her mind quickly. Laura nodded as she drew herself up to her full height. "Since we have few other options, I will trust in your plans." Her harsh expression suddenly intensified. "Do not fail me!"
Her partner flinched slightly under the scrutinizing gaze before returning her gesture. "I wouldn't dream of it."
Without so much as a backwards glance, X-23 vaulted over the rock they were hiding behind and sprung towards the Scarlet Witch. Upon seeing her, Wanda used her powers of probability to warp the environment, sending more objects flying towards the attacking mutant with renewed vigor. Laura dodged and jumped to avoid being struck by the flying debris, barely avoiding a large tree branch that came inches from crushing her into the ground.
The Weapon X mutant used the claws in her hand to clear away the branch blocking her path to the enemy, but the red-clad mutant countered with a series of hexes, causing her claws to retract into her fists while toppling a particularly large tree. Unable to move out of the way in time, Laura spun her leg in a kicking motion, using the hidden claw in her left foot to slice the falling trunk in two as she somersaulted into the air and within striking distance of the enemy.
Scarlet Witch jumped back to avoid being beheaded by the feral girl's blades, zapping her with a hex that caused her to trip mid-step. "Die!" she screamed wildly, her eyes blazing with fury.
"You first!" the clawed hero retaliated. X-23 proved to be the more skilled of the two combatants despite the enemy's probability changing powers and quickly righted herself mid-fall, making certain to dodge more falling branches that descended from the forest's canopy.
Laura glanced around at the surrounding rows of trees, her well-trained eyes catching sight of a series of orbs of light moving towards them from all directions. Seeing that her partner's plans were finally coming into play, she allowed herself to be caught by one of the hexes, falling face-first onto the forest floor. Fully knowing what was about to happen, X-23 covered her head with her hands as the colored plasmoids exploded in her opponent's face.
Caught off guard by the flashes of light, Wanda lost control of her powers long enough for the enemy to make their move. The Weapon X mutant pushed her hands against the ground for support and performed a sweeping kick, knocking the enemy's legs right out from underneath her. Magneto's daughter fell backwards with a cry of pain, hitting her head against a rock as her back finally hit the ground.
"Hmmm…" X-23 bent over and observed the unconscious girl to make sure she was knocked out, when familiar footsteps diverted her focus again.
Jubilee stepped into the clearing with a smile, pumping her fist into the air and leaping up and down. "Oh yeah, now that's what I call teamwork." Upon noticing the odd expression her partner was giving her, the yellow-clad girl awkwardly ran a hand through her messy hair. "Who'd have thought that my plan would actually work?"
Laura let out the tiniest of groans, clearly disapproving of the other mutant's less focused demeanor. "Don't relax yet… We still need to finish off the enemy!"
"Now just hold on a second! The Brotherhood guys might be jerks, but they wouldn't normally try to kill us like she did just now." she argued, quickly stepping between her partner and the enemy's unconscious form. "I'm willing to bet that Mojo guy forced her to fight us."
"Does it matter? She's a threat to us as long as she's alive." X-23 retorted, the claws on her right knuckle sliding into place as she spoke.
The yellow-clad girl folded her arms, refusing to back down. "I don't know how you were brought up, but where I come from, it's not right to kill without any real justification, especially when we don't even know all the full circumstances."
Wolverine's clone froze for a second as she thought of her own childhood, knowing full well that the person she was talking to could never understand. However, it also made her think of all the times Logan had explained to her why it was important not to use lethal force when it wasn't necessary. Although he often felt the temptation to do so, Wolverine explained it as a distinction between what makes someone a man or an animal. Granted he wasn't the best at explaining these kinds of things, but she had understood the basic concept well.
"Fine, have it your way." she blurted out with an irate expression. After taking a deep breath, Laura retracted her claws and reluctantly stepped away from Wanda's limp body. She turned to her partner again. "You seem to forget that we're in the middle of enemy territory. Worrying about your enemies at times like these is dangerous."
"It's better than having someone's blood on your hands." Jubilee added in.
X-23 ears twitched as she heard shuffling in the nearby clearing, prompting her to sniff the surrounding air. She detected two familiar scents and one unfamiliar scent, but even recognizing who was coming did little to settle her nerves. The Weapon X mutant realized that Jubilee might have been right about their attacker being brainwashed and quickly took a fighting stance in case the newcomers posed a threat. Her teammate seemed to notice the noise too and raised her hands up as if she were about to use her powers.
"Hiyah!" Laura took to the offensive and plunged headfirst through the bush, prompting her partner to do the same.
Nightcrawler held up his hands defensively and screamed while Avalanche stepped protectively in front of Shadowcat as the animalistic killer landed in front of them. Jubilee ran into the clearing moments later with a shocked expression plastered on her face. The two groups glanced at each other with wide-eyes, both remaining silent for several seconds as if daring the other to make the first move. Kurt was the first to recover.
"So, you guys are here too?" the blue-skinned mutant asked with a nervous look.
"Of course we're here! Did you think we were a hallucination or something?" Jubilee shot back.
Kitty exhaled wearily before forcing a smile. "Well, at least we're together now."
"Hey guys… Could you call off this chick before she starts poking holes in my face?" The group quickly diverted their focus towards Lance Alvers. The tremor inducing mutant was standing perfectly still with X-23's claws only inches from his face. The other X-Men waved their hands dismissively, prompting Laura to lower her arms and step away.
Avalanche shuffled over so that he was sanding beside Kitty, still looking slightly shaken by the near death experience. "Sheesh, who's is that girl? She's got powers just like Wolverine."
Shadowcat leaned in before whispering in his ear. "Don't ask… It's a really long story."
The Asian American watched them converse, but she was more focused on the severity of their current situation. "I know you guys are all happy to see each other, but what's Lance doing with you and Kurt?"
"That Mojo freakazoid brainwashed him to attack us." The intangible girl explained.
Kurt shrugged with a similar look. "It took some effort, but we managed to snap him out of it."
"Wanda also attacked us just now… I doubt this is a coincidence." Jubilee added.
"Hell no!" Avalanche replied with a nasty grimace. "That giant blob monster who trapped us here kidnapped the Brotherhood and used some kind of mind control things on us. He forced us to fight each other and must've turned us loose to take care of you guys."
"That guy makes me sick!" Kitty made a retching gesture with her finger, a subtle hint of anger appearing on her normally calm face. "Mojo is more of a monster than anyone we've ever fought before. All he wants to do is watch people kill each other for his own amusement."
Her former love interest grit his teeth angrily, his face betraying a much harsher expression than hers. "When I get my hands on that creep, he's so dead!"
"I've never met someone with so little regard for life before." Jubilee agreed.
Realizing that the conversation was quickly going off course, Kurt waved his arms to get their attention. "Just wait a second you guys!" he turned to the yellow-clad girl standing to his side. "Weren't you just saying that you saw Wanda in the woods?"
"Yeah, we had just knocked her out before running into you guys. I had to stop Laura from getting carried away or else she might have done something we all would've regretted."
As if on cue, X-23 walked back into the clearing carrying the red-clad form of her defeated opponent. Upon hearing the truth from Avalanche, she had quickly returned to the battlefield and retrieved the enemy's body. Ironically her softhearted partner had been right to suggest that their opponent had not been in full control of her actions, and Laura decided on her own to handle the situation. Everyone's eyes settled on them as the girl laid her defeated adversary onto the ground, resting her head on a soft patch of leaves.
Kitty Pryde fell to her knees beside the motionless mutant, gently pressing a finger to her wrist to feel her pulse. "Phew, looks like she's only knocked out."
Lance joined her. "Glad to see you X-Men don't hold a grudge against us Brotherhood guys."
"Well unlike some people, Wanda didn't chicken out when I asked her to help against Magneto."
"Still steamed? Why am I not surprised?" Her ex-boyfriend scratched his neck nervously. "Give us some credit… A least the rest of us showed up for the final round."
Nightcrawler nudged them urgently, his yellow eyes widening in surprise as he caught sight of a metallic ring strapped to the girl's wrist. "Hey Kitty, it looks like she's wearing one of those mind control things just like Avalanche was when we found him."
"So that's how they were controlling her." Jubilee mused with a distasteful expression.
Without so much as a warning, X-23 stepped forward, pushing her way past the group of mutants. She slashed the mechanized cuff on Wanda's wrist with her claws, shattering the mind-control device to pieces without harming the girl. The device let out a few sparks and flashed dangerously as she sniffed it, prompting the animalistic mutant to toss it as far as she could.
"Hey, she's waking up!" Kurt pointed a three fingers hand at Wanda, prompting everyone to divert their focus to the unconscious girl.
Scarlet Witch stirred for a second, her eyelids fluttering open in shock and surprise. Seeing the blue-furred face only a few feet from her own, she jumped up and blasted Nightcrawler into the air with one of her jinxes, causing him to land in nearby bush. She bolted upright with a hostile look, her explosive anger causing several random objects to pelt the people standing around her.
The others managed to avoid being struck, but a stray stone smacked into Avalanche's helmet, leaving a nasty crack on the surface.
Shadowcat seized her by the wrists, looking directly into Wanda's frightened eyes. "Easy there, you're with friends now."
"Kitty! Is that you?" The red-clad girl shook her off before giving her head a shake to clear it.
"Um hmmm… A bunch of my friends were kidnapped and brought here too." the intangible mutant replied with a calm expression, gently stepping back and gesturing to the others.
Magneto's daughter rubbed her temples as the world came back into focus. She looked around at the surrounding mutants, but didn't recognize everyone. Wanda had never really spoke to most of the younger X-Men, so this was no surprise to her, although the serious-looking girl who seemed to be standing away from the group with her arms crossed was completely unfamiliar. She almost fell over again as Nightcrawler reappeared in a crack of sulfur and smoke.
Shadowcat walked over and helped the other girl stand up, gently supporting her by the arm as she tried to get comfortable. "Easy does it… Looks like you really took a beating back there."
"Ouch, I feel like someone just hit me in the head with a boulder." Scarlet Witch rubbed the bump she felt from her fall. "The last thing I remember, we were captured and experimented on by that talking blob. Anyone care to explain top me what's going on?"
Lance took his teammate by the other arm in a rare attempt to be a gentleman. "That creep used some kind of control collars on us and forced us to attack the X-Men. Blue-boy and Kitty helped snap me out of it just before we ran into some of the others and found you."
"The important thing is that you're back to normal." Kitty reassured with a gentle expression. "I have to say, this probably wasn't what our host had planned."
Wanda glanced over at the institute's students pensively. "Speaking of which, do you guys know where we are, or what that monster was planning when he abducted us?"
"He calls himself Mojo, although I honestly don't have any idea what he is. From the sound of it, he explained more to us than he did to you guys." Katherine Pryde scratched her chin and eyed the Brotherhood members. "Maybe he only tells the full details to the actual players?"
"What on Earth are you talking about now?" Magneto's daughter blurt out impatiently.
"From what he told us, this is all some kind of twisted game." Nightcrawler added with a shrug.
When she didn't respond right away, Kitty decided to elaborate. "From what we were told, this place is actually a world separate from Earth. It seems that he kidnaps people and forces them to fight to the death to entertain the people of this twisted dimension. It's just like Kurt said."
"So, that's the case…" Wanda hissed through grit teeth. Despite the pains and aches she still retained from the previous battle, she stumbled forward and clenched her fists with a sense of blind fury. "That insolent worm will pay dearly for this!"
"You said it, sister!" a new voice rang out. Although the deep tone was familiar, any question of who were quickly answered.
The giant form of Fred Dukes stomped into their midst, his bulk almost concealing the presence of his more diminutive teammates. Quicksilver and Toad stepped out from behind him, closely followed by Storm and Iceman. Although X-23 considered striking out at the newcomers, the ivory-haired weather witch moved to the head of the second group and raised her hand to stop anyone from making any hasty moves.
"So there you guys are? We were worried sick!" Jubilee ran over to her teammates with a relieved expression, instinctively taking a step back away from the remaining Brotherhood members. "You guys are all normal, right?"
"Well people say most folks shower more than once a month, both I guess you could say I…"
"Shut up, Toad! No one cares about your lousy hygiene." Blob smacked him upside the head.
Lance exhaled deeply and shook his head with mild embarrassment. "Yup, it's them alright."
"Don't worry, weather woman and snowface over there beat the sense back into us a few miles back." Quicksilver flicker a thumb towards the two elemental mutants. "Although, it was still pretty freaky waking up in the middle of the woods without any idea where we were. They also filled us in on what's going on."
The obese mutant slammed his fists together before cracking his knuckles. "I still can't believe we let ourselves get caught by these losers! When I get my hands on this Mojo creep, I'm gonna rip his arms out of their sockets and beat him to death with them!"
Bobby laughed at the image before joining in. "Not if I put him on ice first!"
"Can't let you guys can't have all the fun, can I" Jubilee held up her gloved hand, causing small sparks to appear between her fingers. "A few of my fireworks oughta wipe that creepy smile off his ugly mug."
"Yo, I don't see why we all can't take turns kicking his sorry butt!" Toad added with a shrug.
"Enough wasting time! X-23 snapped, her silence up until now causing everyone to direct their attention onto her. She sighed and leaned against a nearby tree, her gaze hardening as she eyed the group. "What you people don't seem to get is that we currently have no idea how to get out of this place, nor do we even know where we are."
A faint murmur came from the assembled mutants as they realized she was correct, although it was Storm who spoke out first. "She's absolutely right… Our teams may have survived this trial, but we have no idea where Mojo is or how to escape from his games."
"So what? Are you suggesting we just stay here and do nothing?" Wanda interjected fiercely.
"There's gotta be some way out of this place, and even if there isn't, that doesn't mean we shouldn't go looking for one!" Lance concurred.
Kitty nodded in agreement before turning to the sole adult of their team. "He's actually got a good point. What do you think we should do, Storm?"
The ivory-haired woman fell silent as she considered the options, silently weighing them in her mind as the others watched. Upon realizing that all eyes were on her, she guessed that they all shared the same opinion, but decided to make sure.
"We'll put this situation to a vote." Storm began with a no-nonsense tone. "Should we find a place to rest, or shall we continue searching the area for a way to escape."
Scarlet Witch clenched her fists. "I don't care what the rest of you do, but I'd sooner die than sit here and wait for that spineless monster to do something else!"
Toad wrapped his arms around hers affectionately. "If my baby-cakes is heading out into the jungle, than I'm coming along too."
"Get off me!" she tore her arm out of his grip and zapped the amphibious mutant with her powers, launching him into the air and into the branches of the nearest tree. Toad thrashed around tangled in the vines with his arms and legs stuck in the foliage. He began muttering pleas for help, but the group purposely ignored him.
"What about the rest of you?" Storm turned to the others for answers.
Kurt panicked at the thought. "Who's to say he's finished with us yet? With our luck he probably has another sick game planned!"
"I don't think it matters either way, so we should at least come up with a plan in the meantime. I'm in no matter what you guys decide to do!" Jubilee added.
"We all agree too!" Kitty replied, having quickly discussed the issue with the remainder of the Brotherhood.
Bobby rested his hands on the back of his head and leaned back ever so slightly. "No arguments here. Looks like it's pretty much unanimous!"
"Very well then." The weather witch decided. "Since the majority believes we should continue on, then there will be no need for further discussion."
With a few quick exchanges, the mutants quickly set off with Blob standing in front, his large size and bulk making it easy to clear a path through the woods. The others walked behind him with caution, Toad and Nightcrawler using their acrobatic skills to keep an eye out for danger from the safety of the trees.
X-23 brought up the rear, her expression serious as usual. She had purposely decided not to vote earlier based on the fact that neither choice was better than the other due to the desperation of their situation. Using her enhanced senses, she glanced around and sniffed the air with a sense of paranoia. Although things were calm now, the Weapon X clone knew from experience that it would only take seconds for another catastrophe to break out, and because of this she wanted to be prepared.
Unbeknownst to the group, they were being watched every step of the way by the viewers and their unwanted host. Mojo watched them from the safety of his monitor room, his smile widening as he shoved another handful of grub-like creatures into his mouth. A large glob of mucus-like drool dripped down the side of his gigantic stomach, but he did nothing to remedy this. The doors opened behind him, revealing the multi-limbed form of his most faithful servant.
"It would appear that Phase 1 did not go as you planned." She explained monotonously.
"Come now Spiral, don't be a part pooper!" Mojo mumbled through a mouthful of food, his prey squealing as he bit into their crunchy bodies. He savored the flavor before swallowing, the juices slowly running down his chin. "It's just one of the things that makes live-action entertainment so much more entertaining!"
"Be that as it may, the subjects are still alive and searching for a way to escape."
The spineless monster cackled like a madman, his red-eyes bulging slightly in excitement. "So what if they didn't kill each other in the first round, it just prolongs the fun and saves me the trouble of having to find more players for the games! These mutants are proving to be a much more valuable commodity than even I envisioned!"
Spiral was much less amused than her master. "What if they manage to find their way into the control room or the stands? Do you have any idea what will happen then?"
"You worry too much, and besides… It's not like they could simply leave my little enclosure unless I chose to allow it! There is no escape once you become a star in Mojovision!"
The spider-like legs supporting Mojo's considerable bulk carried him over to the largest monitor where he quickly accessed the master controls. His mind had come up with a new idea to entertain the masses, and his people would not be denied their daily dose of carnage. Snapping his knuckles dramatically, the monstrosity pressed a few buttons on the keyboard and punched in a series of codes into the computer. If things went as planned this time, it was certain to be his best show yet.
Spiral glanced over at the screen, her eyes widening slightly. "Normally you prefer to prolong the suffering of your players, and yet it would seem you've arranged for a quick demise."
"Normally that would be the case, but something tells me that these particular humans are gonna put up a Hell of a show no matter what type of challenge I present to them! This will be the greatest performance of their lives!" The evil producer threw his flabby arms in the air in a grandiose display, his face contorting into a much more sinister grin as he lowered them. "And coincidentally, their last…"
It had been several hours by the time Forge had finished the adjustments on his transporter. Since he hadn't had the time to design an entirely new model, the resident genius had returned home to retrieve one of his older ones. Since it was much newer than the one he had invented several decades ago, he had chosen the module they had used to banish the monsters from Kurt's portals back into their own dimension. It took some work, but he had managed to change it so that the machine could also open doorways into other worlds.
Although the students were back at the mansion with Scott and Jean, the remainder of the staff had assembled in the woods behind the institute where the others had disappeared earlier that day. It was past midnight, forcing the mutants to carry lanterns into the forest just to see where they were going. Forge stood at the lead of the group, alongside Beast and Professor X. Colossus and Gambit followed with Wolverine taking up the rear.
"How much longer will it be before you can activate the device?" the telepath questioned.
Forge glanced at the screen of his remote-control device before answering. "We should be arriving momentarily, so there's really no need to worry quite yet."
"A bunch of our teammates just got kidnapped and sent to another dimension and you're saying there's nothing to worry about." Logan snorted with a grimace. "Are you crazy, bub?"
The mutant inventor scratched his chain as if he were considering the notion. "That's actually a pretty good question… Well, I suppose it really depends on who you ask?"
Beast glanced over at the Weapon X mutant's poisoned expression and laughed quietly before addressing their new companion. "I believe that was a rhetorical question. In such cases it is better not to give an answer."
"It's more fun to see someone's expression when you do." The genius boy replied with a smirk.
Wolverine scowled. "We don't have time for screwing around! Just use that machine and bring back the others."
The Cajun card shark let out an ill-sounding chuckle. "Y'know… Speaking of which, I was just wondering why we have to be out here? Can't you use that ray-gun back at the mansion?"
"I'm glad you asked." Forge replied in a matter-of-fact way, his eyes returning to the device in his hand. "We are currently tracking the energy signature left behind by whatever type of dimensional anomaly the kidnappers used to transport your friends. I figured it would be best if we were closer to the signal when I activate the machine in order to maximize its efficiency."
This answer seemed to satisfy the others as they continued on the path through the woods, following the directions given to them by Forge without complaint. After several more minutes of hiking through the overgrowth, they entered a large clearing that appeared to have been damaged by a recent battle. Beast had investigated the same location several hours earlier while searching for the lost students, but in the dead of night the scene had been much harder to locate.
"Looks like this is the place… We're here." Forge replied as he turned to face the group.
Wolverine bent over and sniffed the ground, his eyes moving towards the damaged trees and footprints left behind by the struggle. "Yup, they were definitely here." He paused and turned to the genius. "You should have let me track the scents. We would have arrived a lot faster."
"According to my scans of this vicinity, there are several different locations where dimensional anomalies were opened within about five square miles. I believe you specifically mentioned that the students were in different places when they kidnapped." He began.
"So, what's your point?" the feral mutant questioned with an irritated grunt.
Forge pressed another button on his handheld device to double check the data before answering. "You might have led us to the closest source of several, but my device brought us to the place where the energy signature was strongest. It is important that the readings we receive are as accurate as possible for this procedure to be a success."
"Let's get to work immediately, shall we?" Xavier spoke out with an urgent note.
"Right you are!" the mutant inventor replied. Clapping his hands together, he signaled for Colossus to set down the device he was carrying.
The Russian mutant placed a familiar-looking ray-gun on the ground beside Forge while Beast opened the pack on his back and began setting up a small computer terminal they had carried over from the mansion. Gambit and Wolverine placed the lanterns they had been carrying on the ground on opposite sides of the clearing, using the buttons on the side to increase the brightness so that it enveloped the small area.
Once they had finished setting up the makeshift site, Forge used a series of cables to connect his dimensional transporter to Beast's computer. Once he had made the necessary connections, the super genius placed a disk into the side of the laptop and took a few minutes to install a program that would enable the computer to transmit and interpret data from his own machines. Using a third wire, he connected the remote-sized device from earlier in the second jack on the side of the computer and placed it on the small table that Hank had set down.
"Looks like everything's working perfectly!" the inventor replied with a quick thumbs-up.
Professor Xavier watched with interest, his eyes gravitating towards the screen. "Impressive, but what do you plan to do now that your devices have been set up."
His fingers danced across the keyboard with such fluidity that it looked like he was playing the piano, and his eyes never left the monitor for a second. "I'm using my tracking device to detect the signal left behind by the dimensional rift that was opened at this location." Forge explained.
"Very impressive…" Hank McCoy commented with a look of amusement.
Gambit leaned against his fighting stick with a lazy expression, his eyes swiveling towards the three men huddled around the computer. "So, what are you guys going on about now?"
Beast glanced over his shoulder at the explosive mutant. "By making his devices adaptable to common computers, Forge is able to transmit data between different machines while using the computer to more closely refine and inspect certain bits of information."
"Sounds… complicated." The Cajun mutant raised an eyebrow with his carefree expression.
"Hardly." Forge shook his head, not even sparing a glance back the others as he continued his work. A small smile appeared on his lips as he placed his finger on the touch-pad, clicking the okay button on screen. "And… … Looks like I'm just about… Done!"
"That was quick!" Logan commented with a slightly skeptical look. "Hope you didn't mess this one up the same way you did to Kurt awhile back."
The mutant inventor flushed slightly at the memory of the incident, his thought briefly returning to the monsters that attacked Bayville High. "Don't worry about it. I've managed to debug the system since last time, so in theory it should be much safer. I'm 99.99% sure that the system will work perfectly this time."
"For some reason that doesn't make me feel better." Wolverine added with a weary expression.
"Just trust me!" Forge answered reassuringly, his expression wavering for a second. "If there's one thing I learned through tinkering with machines, it's that nothing is completely certain. According to my calculations, there's a higher probability that the average person would die in a car accident, then there is that this new module will cause any more problems."
Gambit stepped forward with an enigmatic half-smile. "Well what're we waiting for? If we're gonna do this thing, then let's just get it over with!"
Charles Xavier nodded. "It is very possible that the others were taken someplace dangerous by nefarious individuals. We should proceed with caution under the very likely circumstances that this is indeed the case."
"So are you guys ready for this?" Forge picked up the ray gun by the two handles on the back.
When no one objected, her pressed the buttons on the side with his thumbs, causing the machine to release a stream of bright energy that twisted itself into the shape of a vortex. The X-Men watched the spinning energies with a sense of mingled curiosity and surprise, although it was hardly strange for them considering all of the things that the mutants endured on a daily basis. Logan stepped forward to touch the portal only to be stopped mid-step by Forge.
"Wait a minute, before doing anything else we should first decide who goes and who stays behind to keep an eye on things here." The inventor proposed tactfully.
Wolverine took less than a second to decide. "I'm definitely going in. You're gonna need me in case we have to track them down."
Professor Xavier glanced around at his assembled team silently wishing Cyclops and Jean had come with them. Although at the same time he feared for the safety of his remaining students and knew that it had been the right decision to keep them on watch duty back at the mansion. The telepath sized up their current use of manpower, although he wasn't surprised when the former Acolytes both stepped forward.
"It would be my honor to help save our comrades." Colossus agreed with a respectful salute.
Gambit twirled his staff between his fingers with a nonchalant expression. "I'm pretty good at dealing with the rough stuff." he paused for a second before hiding his weapon away in his jacket. "Plus you're gonna need someone who can adapt to tough situations and prepare for anything. Count me in too!"
"You can count on me to help out in any way I can." Beast rationalized calmly.
The professor folded his hands in his lap and nodded. "Bearing that in mind, it might be a better idea if you stay behind with us. We may require your help here in case something goes wrong."
"That's actually not a bad idea." Forge concurred before looking up at the others.
"So now that we got all the details hammered out, let's get going!" Wolverine said impatiently. They began walking towards the portal, only for the scientist to stop them a second time. "What do you want now, kid?"
The mutant genius stopped them by holding out his arm before shuffling over the backpack he had given Beast to carry. He rummaged through several different items before finding what he needed. Running back to Logan, Forge handed a cellular phone-sized object to him resembling a small walkie-talkie, only with a small screen on the surface. Although it wasn't clear what he was doing at first, the inventor quickly pulled out a second device almost identical the first and pocketed his own.
"These communicators I rigged up last year after my last big experiment should enable you to talk to is even across different planes of existence."
"Have you tested these before?" Professor Xavier questioned with a look of concern.
"No sweat!" Forge tried to reassure the others. "I transferred the first prototype into the pocket dimension at Bayville High and managed to get a signal to it while using the second prototype. I haven't learned to account for the variation of different dimensions that exist across the space-time continuum, although if the basic principles are the same, we shouldn't have any problems establishing two-way communication."
Wolverine placed the machine in the back pocket of his pants while Forge returned to his position behind the computer before addressing the soon-to-be inter-dimensional travelers.
"Whatever you do, don't lose that device! It allows me to track you location be transmitting a signal directly to my machines. We need this to determine you exact location! I will contact you approximately thirty seconds following your entry to confirm your safety."
"All right, if we're done with all the formalities, let's get this show on the road!" Logan called out to the others.
"Age before beauty." Gambit gestured forward with a sarcastic smirk, eliciting a small scowl from the feral mutant.
Professor Xavier waved them off with a stern but genuine expression. "I wish you all good luck!"
Wolverine jumped through the swirling energies and disappeared in a flash, causing the other two to hesitate slightly. Colossus swallowed the lump that had begun to form in his throat and jumped in closely after him, with Gambit waving casually before following his teammates. Once the three men had vanished into the void, the remaining mutants exchanged nervous glances with each other, all three looking slightly anxious due to the current situation. At this point, they knew that anything could happen.
Note to Readers: As usual I'm sorry for any typos or errors in spelling or grammar, but I typically write this late it night. Doesn't seem like much interesting happened in this chapter, except the introduction of another character. I'm dying to get this story arc over with and onto the next two, which actually relate to the main plot. Mojo is simply an annoyance right now and doesn't relate Magneto or HYDRA in any way.
My motivation to write seems to have hit an all-time low. A big thanks to anyone who reviewed the last chapter, and to whoever's still reading this story. Until next time, please REVIEW! I tend to be more motivated to write if I get some good feedback. If you loved or hated something, have any critiques to make, guesses as to what is about to happen, or even suggestions, I'll gladly take them.