Two Days Ago
The office was dimly lit. The desk-lamp just didn't do enough for a room that size, and the dwindling daylight coming in through the western windows cast bars of light and dark on the floor. There were two desks, one larger than the other. One had a fairly unimpressive computer setup. The other had a clunky combination fax machine/laser printer, a telephone, and a couple of manilla envelopes set upon it in a disorganized fashion. There was a little table with a coffee-maker and a bunch of paper cups on it sitting in a corner. One wall had a bunch of file cabinets and a mostly empty bookcase. Most of the space in the room was empty. The gorgeous dark-skinned woman had been lounging in the nicer of the two office chairs - the one at the desk with the computer station, though she'd sat up since then.
Four men had just walked into the room.
One of them was Pietro Maximoff.
Silence hung in the office for a three-count. Then Pietro folded his arms across his chest. "You're looking for Pietro Maximoff?" he asked. Then, without waiting for an answer, he said, "You've found him. What do you want?"
Kyle Rayner stepped forward into the light coming through the window-blinds, and it cast his face in alternating lines of light and shadow. "Hello, Pietro," he said. "Iron Man told me what happened."
Pietro sneered. "Iron Man," he said, making the name sound like a curse. "You here to stop me, Kyle?"
"I'm here to hear your side of the story," Kyle replied.
"That makes five of us," one of the men - the one with the leather coat and the green shirt - said.
Pietro studied Kyle's face for a subjective eternity. Then he seemed to sag. "Fine," he said.
The office door opened again, and a woman with almost buzz-cut red hair came in. "Did I miss anything?" she asked, her voice colored by a Scottish accent. Her eyes narrowed. "Who's Mr. Black and Green?"
"That's what I'd like to know," the big guy said.
Introductions were made. The redhead was Rahne Sinclair. The dark-skinned woman was M. Jacket-guy was Jamie Madrox. The big guy was Guido. The otherwise normal looking guy was Rictor.
Then it was Kyle's turn. "The name's Kyle Rayner," he said. "I'm a Green Lantern. That's sort of a intergalactic space cop, though I don't think we technically exist in this universe. I met Pietro and his sister a couple years back when my team - we were called the Justice League - teamed up with with the Avengers to deal with a threat to both of our worlds."
Other people might have thought his story was unlikely. Other people might have taken issue with his claim to be from another universe. X-Factor, however, consisted entirely of former X-Men. They didn't blink.
"All right," Jamie said, "We know each other. Great. Now about that explanation."
Everyone looked at Pietro expectantly.
He let out a breath. "... They were going to kill her," he said.
"Who's they?" Jamie asked.
"Xavier, the X-Men, the Avengers." He looked at the ground. "It was bad. Wanda had lost control of her powers, and a couple of Avengers had died. But she'd never meant to!" The room was silent. He swallowed. "A long time ago, I swore on my life that I would protect her, and they were going to kill her! Our own father was ready to let them! I couldn't let that happen. She was sorry. She wanted to take it all back. What she'd done. The people she'd killed."
"What did you do, Pietro?" Kyle asked.
Pietro looked up. "I convinced her that she should try," he said. Silence. The noise of a car passing on the street outside. Snow drifting past the windows. "Magnus had always chosen his 'mutant race' over his own children. We never had a chance. I just wanted…" He trailed off. "She used her power. She reordered reality to take it all back, to make it better, and to make everyone she loved happy." His eyes were shining with unshed tears now. "She gave them everything they had ever wanted! They shouldn't have even been able to remember that things had ever been different, but they did, and they ruined it. Everything was burning, and I was dying, and our father had turned against us. He was ready to let them kill her, so she…" He trailed off, and a tear traced its way down his cheek.
Kyle got it. "So Wanda did the one thing she knew would hurt him more than anything else," he said.
Pietro nodded. "No more mutants," he said bitterly.
The New World
by P.H. Wise
A BtVS, Power Girl, DCU, and Marvel Comics crossover fanfic
Chapter 3: Unfinished Business, Part 2
Disclaimer: The DC Universe and its associated characters is the property of DC comics. The Marvel Universe and its associated characters is the property of Marvel Entertainment LLC. I'm honestly not sure who owns Buffy the Vampire Slayer anymore, but it used to be Fran and Kaz Kuzui. This chapter is based in part on 'The Search for Magik' story arc from the New X-Men. I don't own that, either.
Dawn Summers was bruised, tired, dirty, and she wanted to go home. This was not a change from her status quo. Well, the tired, bruised and dirty bits were, but she had wanted to go home since she'd gotten here. It had been sudden: one moment she'd been sitting at her desk, writing in her diary. Buffy hadn't been home, but her mom was downstairs making dinner, and she could smell it even all the way upstairs. Lasagna tonight. A good smell. Familiar. Like home. Then she'd just blinked, and she was standing in some strange dorm room. She thought she'd handled it pretty well. Except for the passing out part. But that had totally not been her fault. Oh, sure, she'd felt like panicking at first, but then she'd spotted a photo of Girl-Xander and a group of smiling teenagers that she supposed were probably her friends sitting on the desk, and she'd played it totally cool from there on.
She was cool like that.
Girl-Xander. … It was still a little weird thinking of Girl-Xander as Karen. Mostly because she wasn't Karen. She was Xander. XANDER. Just Girl-Xander, which was like regular Xander except girl-shaped and better, because Girl-Xander didn't have a heinous bitch of a girlfriend named Cordelia Chase who kept being nasty to her that he'd rather spend time with than hang out with her. Technically, Girl-Xander didn't actually remember her. Technically that was because of… reasons. Reasons she didn't want to think about, because every time she did, it felt like this huge yawning pit opened up in her chest. But not remembering her just meant Girl-Xander didn't have any preconceptions about her, right? It was a good thing. Wasn't it? And if Girl-Xander hung out with a bunch of weirdos with powers, well, it wasn't like there was any lack of those in Sunnydale. Buffy had powers, after all. And she'd heard about some girl in Buffy's class who turned invisible. And Willow did magic.
Someone said something. She wasn't sure what it was. It was hot, and her head felt weird.
"...awn?" A voice said, getting louder and more clear. "Dawn? Are you OK?"
Dawn Summers opened her eyes, and the world spun back into focus. Except it wasn't the world. She was lying on her back staring up at the sky. Except it wasn't the sky. Pixie was looking down on her with concern and had a hand on her shoulder. Behind her, Match and Anole and Wolf Cub, Loa and Gentle looked on with concern, while Blindfold stood with her eyeless face uncovered, peering out with sightlessly into the fire-lit darkness.
The hellish landscape of Limbo sprawled all around them. It was hot, and it stank of brimstone, and the sky was full of smoke. There was a red glow all around them.
"Where are we?" Dawn asked, her eyes very wide, her voice faint.
"We're in trouble," Anole said. "I think, I think this is Limbo."
Dawn's jaw dropped open slightly, and for a moment, she forgot about how unfair it all was, and felt very small. "... Oh," she said.
The journey to New York City wasn't a long one the way Karen took it, rocketing as she did from the Xavier Institute near the border of New York and Connecticut on a more or less straight line to Yonkers at hypersonic speed. She had to start slowing down over Yonkers, though she still rattled windows in that city as she passed. From there she followed the Hudson until she hit Manhattan. It was a little weird how easy navigation by air was getting, but she didn't have time to worry about that. When she saw the Village on her left, she veered towards it, decelerating further as she made her way to Doctor Strange's residence at 177A Bleecker Street.
Her headache spiked just before she arrived. It felt like a weight pulling her towards the ground. She landed a full block short of Strange's three-story townhouse in front of a little hole in the wall red shack called Percy's Pizza. She could actually see the townhouse from where she stood, strangely isolated and alone in the middle of an otherwise thriving part of the city, storefronts on either side of it, and across from it, but there it stood in the middle of it; few walked near it. Fewer still walked along the sidewalk in front of it. Yet the isolation wasn't something anyone did consciously. People just found reasons not to walk there. Not that there were many people out to begin with in this weather, and those that there were were bundled up against the cold. The snowfall was at a lull here, drifting gently down in the still evening. Karen could see her breath on the air.
She set Santo down and glanced about.
Santo took a few seconds regaining his balance after supersonic flight. It wasn't something he was used to, though if his loud whoop was any indication, he'd enjoyed the experience. "That. Was. AWESOME!" he said, and turned to give Karen a high five. When she didn't seem to notice his effort, he stopped his hand in midair, then lowered it with a frown.
The few people on the street were moving away from them. Finding reasons not to be around two obvious mutants. Like the isolated townhouse less than a block away, it wasn't anything anyone seemed to do on purpose.
"Karen?" Santo asked.
Footsteps crunched in the snow. A man was approaching, and unlike the rest of the crowd, he didn't avoid approaching the two of them. He was dressed much like he had been in her dream. A middle-aged white man in a business suit with mouse brown hair and dark eyes. He had exchanged his suit jacket for a heavier winter one, but that was his only concession to the weather. His appearance was immaculate, and everything about the way he moved spoke of casual authority, of privilege.
Karen's heart began to race, and her headache utterly ceased, like someone had flipped a switch in her brain: the pain was gone. "You!"
The man smiled magnanimously. "Me," he confirmed.
Santo looked at the man, then at Karen, not really sure what was going on, "You know this guy?" he asked.
Karen balled up her fists and tensed, her eyes beginning to glow with a deadly red light, and then didn't move an inch further. She tried. This man was too dangerous. You couldn't afford to let him be conscious around you. And she did absolutely nothing. Her first reaction was panic. "Why can't I move?" Then it sank in. It really sank in, and she went pale. "Oh, crap," she whispered.
Santo scowled, and smacked one rocky fist into an equally rocky palm with a grinding thunk. "Whatever you're doing, you better stop it or I'm gonna…" He trailed off in mid-sentence, his expression growing slack.
"I thought it was time we had a conversation," the man said. "You've been operating independently for a long time now. I want a full report."
Karen's mouth opened before she could stop it. Words began to tumble out. She told him everything. She gave him the highlights of what had happened to her since she'd arrived on this world, her battles with Power Girl, the final confrontation in which the other person who had been in Power Girl's body had jumped into hers, and how, instead of choosing to end her life, he had loved her instead, accepting her and all that she was. How they had become one in body, mind, and spirit. She told the man about the X-Men, about their defenses, their abilities.
She kept Irma and their relationship from the man, but that was all she was able to hold back, and it took all of her willpower to do so.
She told him about General Ross and his troops. She told him the same about the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, and of the journey they had made to save New Earth. She was concise, brief, offering only pertinent details and summarizing the rest. And with every treasonous sentence she spoke, her eyes went wider and wider.
The man listened quietly, nodding along as she spoke, occasionally asking a clarifying question but otherwise looking thoughtful. When she finally finished speaking, he let out a breath and then said, "Well, I can't say I like what this Xander did to you, my dear, but we can still use it. I'll erase him when the time comes. Until then, keep doing what you're doing. Maybe push General Ross a little bit harder. Don't get me wrong, you're doing great, really ramping things up, but you could push things harder. Try for a violent outcome if you can, but don't do anything that would make the telepaths suspicious. I'll check in again just before the two day deadline. Don't bring Rockboy with you next time."
She still couldn't move, but Karen could control her voice again. She glared at the man. "You won't get away with this," she said. "I'll stop you."
The man grinned an easy, boyish sort of grin. "Stop me?" he asked. "You won't even remember me." His nose had begun to bleed. He dabbed at it with a handkerchief.
Karen grit her teeth, helpless rage rising up within her as she marshalled her will, everything she could focus against the man's powers. "Like hell I won't!" she snapped. "I'm fed up with all this psychic bullshit! I'm done being the hapless buttmonkey every time a telepath comes along! I'm…"
"Karen?" Santo asked with concern. "Ya zoned out there for a second."
Karen blinked. She was on Bleecker street. Just a block away from Doctor Strange's home. "... What was I just talking about?" she asked.
Santo made a sound that could have been interpreted as 'I dunno.' Then he blinked. "Hey, you OK?" he asked. "You're crying."
Karen looked at her own reflection in a car window. He was right. She was crying. Looked like she had been for a minute or two. "I am," she confirmed. "That's weird." She wiped her eyes and shook her head. "Probably allergies or something," she said.
Santo looked skeptical. Sounded it, too. "Allergies?" he asked.
Karen shook her head. "It's not important, Santo. We've got friends who need our help, and we're here. Let's go."
They ran across the street through the snow. It didn't take long. And then Karen and Santo stood before the doors of Stephen Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum. Karen knocked three times, and the hollow boom of it seemed to echo through the whole building.
A bald Chinese man opened the door, dressed all in green. He recognized them, but he shook his head, "If you are here to see Doctor Strange," he said, "then I am afraid I must tell you that he is unavailable."
Karen started to push her way inside, but Wong blocked her way. She could have shoved past him, but only by force. "C'mon, Wong," she said, "I need his help. Xavier's school just got sucked into Limbo, and we need Doctor Strange to open a door for us so we can go rescue everybody."
Wong shook his head. "I am sorry. But the Doctor is not at home. He is attending to his duties as Sorcerer Supreme elsewhere in the world." He paused. "I expect him to return within a few hours if you wish to wait."
Karen and Santo exchanged glances, and then Karen shook her head, letting out a frustrated noise. "No. I think… I think it'll be too late by then."
Wong looked apologetic at least. "I would aid you if I could, but opening a path to Limbo is a task that is beyond my meager skill. Nevertheless, I wish you both luck in your quest."
There wasn't anything else to be said after that. Wong shut the door, and Karen grit her teeth in frustration.
Santo scowled at the ground. "OK," he said, "Do we know anyone else who's a badass wizard who can open a portal to Limbo?" He thought about it. "Ya think Reed Richards could do it?"
The mention of yet another member of the Illuminati did not improve Karen's mood. She shook her head. "Reed Richards is useless," she snapped. Then, noticing Santo's wary look, she forced her anger down. It wasn't his fault the door had been shut in their faces. "Sorry. Long day. I'm sure Reed could figure something out, but we'd have no way of knowing if he was…" She trailed off. "Santo, you're a genius!"
Santo grinned. "Think so?" he asked.
"Definitely," Karen said, pulling her cell phone out of her pocket. "We do know a badass wizard," she said. "I just have to see if he's around, first." She had to slow down slightly in order to let the phone's interface keep up with her, but she managed it long enough to type out a text message and hit 'send.'
Five million years later (or about a minute if you go by what the clock on Karen's phone said), a text came back: 'Karen, hey. Yes, I can help. Come on over.'
Karen let out the breath she'd been holding. "Oh, thank God," she said. "OK, let's go."
Santo frowned even as he held up his arms to make it easier for Karen to get a good grip on him. "Go where? Who'd you just text?"
Karen grabbed Santo and took off once more. "Remember how you said you wanted to fight the Young Avengers?" she asked.
"Would you settle for a team-up instead?"
Santo's rocky face broke into a wide grin.
"No problem," Loa said. "We're okay. This is going to be okay." She was maybe a year older than Dawn. Maybe two. She had long brown hair and was covered in this weird tattoo-pattern.
"Girl," Gentle said - Gentle was this handsome black guy from some country Dawn had never heard of. It started with a W. Wakandia, or something like that. "Blindfold, you saw this occur with your power. What happens next?" He had a bunch of tattoos, too, except his looked metallic. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and he had like a gazillion gleaming ab-muscles, and it was distracting.
"She will come," Blindfold said, "But no, not in time." Blindfold might have been pretty if she'd had eyes. And took better care of herself. She had stringy black hair, but that was fixable, and her face was pretty enough, but seeing nothing but smooth skin where her eyes should be was utterly creepifying.
The others kept talking, but Dawn wasn't listening. She turned away from the group and looked down across the hellish landscape of Limbo. … and she saw movement. Things were approaching their position. Demons. Dozens and dozens of demons. Dawn swallowed. "Um, guys?"
Where was Buffy when you needed her?
As if in response to Dawn's thoughts, Blindfold said, "No, she will not come." The demons reached the foot of the rise that they were all standing upon. "She will not come in time."
"Watch out!" Match yelled, and send a huge blast of fire into the demonic ranks. His real name was Ben, but nobody called him that. He was hard to look at, because his body was always on fire. It didn't hurt him, though. At least, when Dawn had asked in class the other day, he'd said it hadn't, and it didn't seem to interfere with his ability to wear clothes, which was … well, kind of baffling, actually.
They all started fighting, then. Match kept on blasting demons with his fire, but there were too many. One of them charged Loa and sent a claw into her chest… which came out the other side like she hadn't even been there, and then started dissolving. She'd flinched, but she wasn't hurt. Wolf Cub went all teen-wolf with his werewolf claws and started tearing into demons. Anole didn't seem to have much in the way of useful powers here, though he was really fast and really agile. Gentle and Blindfold just stood there, doing nothing. Pixie started flying over the fight and dousing every demon in sight in … was that faerie dust?
Dawn hid behind Gentle. She wanted to fight, wanted to help, but the sight of those awful claws and all that slime…
"Summers!" Anole shouted, "You got any powers that might be helpful? Because I don't think we're going to be able to hold these guys!"
Dawn shivered. "I… I don't have any powers!"
"You're a mutant, aren't you?" Pixie asked as she soared by overhead.
Mutant. That's what they'd called her. "I don't know anything about that," Dawn insisted, shaking her head. She remembered having done - something - she wasn't sure what to the wall and running through it faster than she should have been able to, back when those men and that woman had been talking about what to do with her, but… but…
"Come ON, Summers!" Anole shouted, ducking under a blow from a creature that seemed to have hammers in the place of its hands. "You can't really be THAT much of a newbie. Even if you'd only just manifested the day before M-Day, you have to have…" he jumped over a flurry of whipping tentacles, "SOME idea of what you can do!"
Dawn grit her teeth in annoyance. "I TOLD YOU I DON'T…" That was when she realized she'd started to glow with blue light, and could smell the distinct scent of ozone even amongst the stench of Limbo. It startled her so much that she tripped and fell on her butt. The light went out. "I don't know how to use them!" she said. "I didn't have any powers before a couple days ago!"
One of the demons came after Gentle, then, and instantly, his muscle-mass tripled. He caught the creature's fist and crushed it with almost casual ease before delivering a hammer-blow to its head that send it sprawling. The creature did not move again. He turned to a second creature, and then let out a cry as his tattoos began to flare with dangerous looking light. He shuddered, and stopped trying to fight, instead retreating back to the crest of the hill where Blindfold stood.
"Come on, guys!" Anole said, "Let's retreat to Blindfold's position! We can regroup and get in a better position to work together. We can take these guys if we just work…" his words cut off into an agonized scream as a demon with curved, blade-like arms swung at him from behind and cut off his right arm at the shoulder.
"VICTOR!" Pixie screamed.
Dawn's eyes went wide. Her heartbeat thudded in her own ears like a drum. Every cell in her body seemed to crackle with energy as her body kicked into overdrive. Then the blue light sprang up around her, radiating in concentric rings. Her eyes flashed electric blue. Something was about to happen. Something very, very dangerous. Loa grabbed Anole and dragged him up to where Blindfold stood, narrowly evading a bladed arm as she went. The demons were charging. The one that had taken off Anole's arm was rushing towards Dawn. She instinctively flung her hands forward just as it came within striking distance.
The demon exploded. On contact with the blue light emanating from Dawn's body in bright concentric rings, a four foot by four foot section of the creature's body was burned up in an instant. A wave of lethal heat radiated out from Dawn's outstretched hands as the blade-armed demon fell against her plasma emanation and was instantly converted into gas in an expanding wave of heat and pressure. Dawn herself was completely unaffected, but the other demons who were a part of the charge immediately burst into flames even as they were knocked flat by the blast, some of them killed, none of them left untouched.
The horde stopped in its tracks as bits of steaming demon rained down from above. Behind her, the other mutants save Blindfold stared at Dawn in shock.
Then a blonde girl descended from above. A blond girl dressed in what seemed like a weird parody of armor that covered her like a bikini except for the addition of shoulder guards and gauntlets. A blonde girl with demonic horns, a devil's tail, goat hoofs, and carrying a battle-axe almost as big as she was. She landed a few yards to Dawn's left and surveyed the destruction with an approving eye. "Not bad," she said with an unmistakable Russian accent.
Billy Kaplan was waiting on the front steps of his parents' house when Karen and Santo arrived. There was another teen boy with him - a handsome, broad shouldered guy with blue eyes and short blonde hair. Both were in costume already, Billy dressed as Wiccan, and the other guy in a black vest with a band of purple across the chest plus black pants and black boots.
Karen felt a little underdressed in her Superboy duds. Yeah, same outfit as two days ago. She'd done her laundry yesterday, and it was clean, and it wasn't like she had been planning to lead a rescue mission to Limbo. "Hey Billy," she said.
Billy nodded. "Hello, Karen," he said.
"This is Santo," she said, gesturing to Santo. "He's good people. Santo, meet Billy Kaplan and…" she trailed off, looking at the blonde guy, "Teddy, right?"
The blonde guy grinned. "That's me. Teddy Rufus."
"Nice to meetcha," Santo said. "You ready to do some clobbering? Because there's someone where we're going that needs a beating."
Karen held up a hand, "Wait."
Santo shook his head, "No way! Our friends need us! Open up the portal and let's go!"
"I want to rescue them as much as you do, but we can't just let Bill and Ted here take us on an excellent adventure."
Billy and Teddy both cringed visibly. "Hey," Teddy said disapprovingly, "I'm calling foul on that one."
Karen paused and thought about it. Then she grimaced. "Okay, that was out of line. Sorry. But my point is we need a plan. We might not know much about what we're gonna run into, but we can at least make sure we're all on the same page, right? Any of you know anything about Limbo?"
"I know the X-Men have been there before," Santo said. "They beat up this demon lord named Belasco. Or something. … I wasn't really paying attention when they talked about it."
"It's a hell dimension," Billy said. "Belasco is the name of the demon in charge. If your school got sucked into Limbo, you can bet he's behind it."
"All right," Karen said, "Who's this Belasco guy? Are we talking your basic garden variety big bad, or is this guy more of a thirty-five foot long, six hundred pound twinkie?"
"He's bad news," Billy said. "I don't think we can actually beat him. I mean, I'm not an expert on the guy or anything, but as far as I know, he's one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world. And he's almost invulnerable. And he's immortal."
"Immortal can't be killed or immortal doesn't stay dead?" Karen asked.
"Um," Billy said, and thought about it, "Guess we'll find out?"
"OK," Karen said, and frowned thoughtfully. "Anything we can do to give ourselves a better chance against the guy? Because I may be invincible against most things, but I'm distinctly vincible when it comes to magic."
Teddy smirked, giving Billy a sidelong glance. "Think you're up to a few pre-battle buffs, Wiccan?"
Wiccan rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. I guess we'll go with the standard, plus some extra to counter mind control, paralysis, and your basic protective barriers against hostile magic. None of it will hold up for long against a guy like Belasco, but it's better than nothing."
"And suddenly," Karen said, "My life is a D&D game." She thought about that. "... Not that I'm complaining. Hey, can you cast 'Haste?'" Karen grinned. "I wanna see what Haste does to a Kryptonian."
Santo directed a long-suffering look up at the sky. "Nerds," he groused.
"...vid," someone said. It was a burst of sound to his ears. He couldn't quite… everything was dark. He couldn't. See. "David!" Sooraya. That was Sooraya's voice. Coming from his left side. "You must wake now!" she said. There was fear in her voice. He opened his eyes, and the world swam slowly into focus. Sooraya was on his left, trapped in some kind of rock prison. "Uhh…" he groaned. "Sooraya? What happened?"
"We're in big trouble," Sooraya said.
"No kidding," said another voice - Cessily's voice - from his right.
They were in the courtyard of an enormous castle, and David Alleyne was chained to a broken pillar on a raised platform, with Sooraya and Cessily on either side. A vast host of demons and monsters of every description moved through the courtyard. … Some of them were carrying people. Unconscious people that he recognized. He didn't see any of the adult X-Men down there, but as far as he could tell, almost single student from school, including the new ones, so a full 200 of them - was either being carried over to the cages that lined the west side of the courtyard or were already there. The courtyard had taken a beating. There were scorch marks everywhere, and in some places the rock looked half-molten. Some of it was still glowing with heat. There were ashes everywhere. He saw Laura in the din, both of her hands bound up in enormous stone manacles. She looked pissed. Actually, the only students she didn't see here were Noriko, Julian, Karen and Santo. He grimaced and took stock of his own resources. Chained to a pillar. Power Ring on his finger. Unable to… wait. They hadn't taken his Power Ring? … Of course they hadn't. These monsters would have no idea what a Green Lantern ring was. "Ring," he said, "How much power do we have?"
Cessily and Sooraya both looked at him questioningly. "What?" Cessily asked.
"2% power remains, Lantern Alleyne," the ring reported.
"Right," David muttered. He looked around at the burning red sky. "OK. All I remember was fire. Like there was an explosion. Cess, did you see what happened?"
Cessily shook her head. "I was asleep. I woke up when I heard screaming. We were already here. I saw the Cuckoos fighting them. They must have killed hundreds of those monsters. The Three-in-One just burned them to ashes!" A beat passed. "It wasn't enough, though. There were just too many, and…" She looked to where the Cuckoos were lying in one of the cages on the west side of the courtyard. All five of them were lying apparently unconscious, wearing strange metal helmets that completely encased their heads.
The last of the students were forced into their cages. The demons began to mill about expectantly. A murmur ran through the crowd.
"I guess you two can't use your powers in those stone things?" David asked.
Sooraya shook her head. "I really hate magic," Cessily said darkly.
David thought. Then he formulated a plan. "OK," he said, "I can break you two out, but then I need to recharge my ring before I cut loose. Think you can distract the bad guys for thirty seconds or so?"
A creature emerged from the place, a red-skinned humanoid with black hair and horns and pointed ears dressed in elaborate red robes and bearing jewelry that marked him as royalty. The crowd let out a cheer as he descended the steps.
"Shaitan," Sooraya whispered in horror. "We are outside of Allah's sight. We are in hell."
The creature - Belasco - approached the pillar where David was chained.
"Get it together, Sooraya," David said, "I need thirty seconds. That's it. You ready?"
Sooraya swallowed, marshalled her will, and nodded. "Ready."
"Ready" Cessily said.
David's ring flared with emerald light, and the stone prisons around Sooraya and Cessily shattered. Sooraya's body dissolved into a whirling vortex of sand which fell upon the crowd of demons like the wrath of an angry God, putting out eyes and scouring flesh from their bones. Belasco made a warding gesture, and a barrier of red light flared into view, keeping Sooraya's storm from his own body.
Cessily him him from behind, her right arm formed into a mercury-colored spear. Protective magics flared into being once more, yet her form resisted them, and with all her weight and all the momentum of a running charge behind it, her arm-spear sank through his barrier and through the creature's shoulder. She'd been aiming for his spine.
David's chains shattered. His power battery appeared in the air; he held up his ring and began to chant, a pillar of emerald fire rising up around him as he spoke the words that brought hope to trillions of souls across multiple universes, "In brightest day, in blackest night…"
Belasco narrowed his eyes as his blood dripped to the stony ground. He spoke a word in a language that none of them had ever heard that sounded like hate and death, and an unseen force seized Cessily and flung her headlong into the wall of the castle on the far side of the courtyard nearly a hundred yards away. She splattered into what looked like liquid mercury, let out a pained groan, and began to reform herself.
"No evil shall escape my sight," David continued, the light around him growing brighter as power flooded into his ring.
Sooraya scoured her enemies, roiling around Belasco, assaulting him from all sides, slowly forcing her way through his defenses: like Cessily, she too was highly resistant to the effects of magic, and given time, she could begin to hurt her enemy.
Belasco didn't give her that time. He made another series of gestures and spoke a brief chant in that hateful language, and a vibration seemed to pass through Sooraya's dust form. The vortex ceased, and Sooraya fell to the ground, landing back first on a piece of the rocky prison which had contained her, with a crack of breaking bones. She cried out in agony, but did not move.
Rage. Will. David pressed on, willing the recharge cycle to move faster. "Let those who worship evil's might…"
Belasco strode up the steps to the raised platform where David still stood. "Interesting," he mused. "That power. I have never seen its like. A heart so filled with Will made manifest must be a prize indeed."
"Beware my power - Green Lantern's light!" The charging cycle was complete. 100% reserves. Combat protocols online. Force fields online. The uniform of the Green Lantern corps replaced David's civilian clothes, and he brought up his hand, his ring shining like a star, readying his will to strike down the monster before him.
But even as the forcefield came up, in that bare instant before they stabilized at full power, Belasco shoved his left hand forward, his fingers like daggers. There was a brief flash of power as he came in contact with the not yet fully powered forcefield. Then, empowered by the might of the Elder Gods, his fingers slid through the barrier and into David's chest, cutting through flesh and bone with equal ease. Then Belasco ripped out David's heart and held up the organ to the courtyard, showing off his bloody prize.
"DAVID!" Cessily screamed.
"DAVID!" came the screams from a dozen other throats.
His chest a supernova of agony, David didn't fall. Belasco paused in his display, turning to look at the foe he thought he had slain.
David smirked, and it must have looked psychotic, because Belasco, demon lord of Limbo, was taken aback, glancing in disbelief from the bloody heart in his hand to David himself. Then David leveled his ring-clad fist at Belasco and announced, "My turn."
Nightwing, Rockslide, Hulkling and Wiccan came out of the portal a thousand feet above Belasco's castle. They hadn't been expecting that per se, but they'd planned for the possibility: Wiccan had cast a spell on Hulkling and Rockslide that would allow them to land safely before they'd even gone into the portal.
Belasco's castle lay below them, and the sprawling wilds of Limbo all around it. The castle had seen better days: the eastern section had been reduced to rubble, and none of its towers still stood. Karen could see all of her friends except for Noriko and Julian in the castle's courtyard, and it was a scene of pandemonium. Nearly two hundred mutants were fighting an even larger host of demons hand to hand. … or was that hand-to-mutant-power? The kids with powers that were useful in combat had formed a wall, and the kids without combat-useful powers were hiding behind them for the most part. She caught a brief flash of X-23 cutting a demon in half with a swipe of her claws, then blinding another with a kick that sent one of her foot-claws across its eyes. Prodigy was in the air taking the fight to what Karen could only assume was Belasco: a red-skinned devil in red robes shrouded in mystical might. Both Prodigy and Belasco were breathing hard, and both looked battered as all hell.
Belasco was missing his left arm at the elbow. It was just... gone, and the flesh above it was horrifically burned.
Cessily and Sooraya were down.
"YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME!" Belasco bellowed. "YOUR WILL IS NOTHING BEFORE THE POWER OF THE ELDER GODS!" Then he lowered his voice, though it was still loud and angry, "Tell me where Illyana Rasputin is, and even now I will let you live!"
Nightwing hit Belasco with a flying kick at Mach 12. The demon's mystical protections flared to life, but even his considerable sorcerous might could not stop such a blow: he went down, tore a hole in the stone courtyard and kept going into the dungeon below it, and the one below that, and the one below that, and the one below that, stopping only when he hit the very foundations of the castle at the seventh dungeon.
"Hey David," Karen said, "Sorry we're late." Then she saw Prodigy's condition, and her eyes widened: there was an open, bloody hole in his chest, and where his heart should have been was a glowing green facsimile forged from pure Willpower pumping his blood through his veins. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed. "What happened to you!?
Prodigy looked down at the hole in the courtyard that Belasco had smashed after he'd taken Karen's kick. "Asshole ripped out my heart," he said. "I've seen that trick before. I had a backup ready, just in case."
Karen took that in. Then she took in the horrific damage that the castle had suffered, including the eastern half reduced to rubble and the fact that all of its towers lay in ruins. It was then that she decided that she never, ever wanted David Alleyne pissed off at her.
Below them, Hulkling and Rockslide landed in the courtyard and immediately waded into the ranks of the demons, smacking them aside and crushing them with almost contemptuous ease. They made it a competition between them, seeing which of them could deal with more.
Wiccan descended to Nightwing and Prodigy's altitude. "He's coming," he said. "And I think you've pissed him off."
"I'm gonna do a lot more than just piss him off," Nightwing said darkly.
Power gathered beneath the castle. Power like a tangible thing. There was an undeniable weight to it that drew the eye. Streamers of red light flowed from the surrounding landscape down into the hole Belasco had made as he gathered his might; it grew brighter and brighter as he ascended. "ENOUGH!" he roared as he flew up through the hole he had made in the floor. "I will brook no further interruptions! This battle is OVER!" He cut loose. Karen wasn't sure what exactly he hit them with, but it looked like a hundred balls of yellow lightning that exploded and shot lightning bolts in every direction when it got close to someone, and it hurt like HELL.
Nightwing started to twist in the air, to spit out of the way, but a secondary spell hit her at the precise moment she needed to alter course. She took the lightning to the face, and she fell to the courtyard with loops of red light around each of her limbs. She couldn't move her arms or legs. Couldn't fly. Couldn't…
Rage built in her, and her eyes began to glow red.
Belasco landed next to her. He snapped his fingers, and her body floated into the air as he examined her. "Interesting," he said, "A compound soul. It's been ages since I've seen one. It reeks of the science of man, and yet… there is a distinct touch of Chaos to it. And..." he sniffed the air, "Touched by a Hellmouth as well." He tried to look her in the eye.
Wiccan started chanting something above her.
"Don't look into his eyes, Karen!" Sooraya whispered from where she lay motionless on her back upon a piece of rubble. "Shaitan can kill with a look!"
"So can I," Nightwing said, and looked Belasco directly in the eyes. Under ordinary circumstances, Belasco would have won that struggle, but Karen was prepared: Wiccan's protective enchantments resisted his attempt to take her soul. She blasted in him in the eyeballs with full strength heat-vision. The effect was horrific. The demon's eyes ruptured, and the twin beams of released solar energy kept right on going, burning through the creature's skull with heat like the sun itself, and blasting out the other side to cut a hole in the far castle wall.
Belasco dropped to the ground, dead. Wiccan's spell hit him a second later, and it seemed to leech power out of the dead body somehow, little streamers of it floating away into the air.
"Guess it's type two immortality," Wiccan commented. "The spell I hit him with should keep him from reviving for a while. Let's finish off these demons and go home."
It was over a few minutes later, the last demon in the castle defeated. Miraculously, none of the students had died. Well, not miraculously: Josh was on the job, healing the wounded, making sure mortal injuries didn't do their work on the student body.
Karen rushed over to the Cuckoos and, as carefully as she could, took off the helmets one at a time. Each of them stirred as soon as the helmet came off, the enchanted slumber dispelled. Irma's was the last she removed. "Oh, thank God," she said when she saw that Irma was unharmed.
Irma smiled, and hugged Karen as soon as she was awake enough to do so. "Well," she said, "That was exciting. For a Thursday."
Karen nodded solemnly. "But boring by Friday standards, right?"
"It's not fair to judge other days by Friday standards," Irma replied easily. "Friday is Apocalypse day. Everyone knows that."
… and that was when Pixie, Illyana Rasputin, Anole, Blindfold, Gentle, Loa, Match, Wolf Cub, and Dawn Summers all teleported into the courtyard, ready for battle.
Then another portal opened up and deposited Noriko, Julian, and one of the big armored Sentinels on top of the north section of the castle, which promptly collapsed beneath the massive Sentinel's weight. "We're here to rescue…" Nori began, then trailed off. "Oh," she said.
Dead silence fell over the whole group for a second. "... Are we late?" Dawn asked. "We're late, aren't we."
Ilyana looked around in surprise, then saw Belasco's body, walked over to it, and planted her axe in his chest. "Hey Pixie," she called, "Come here and stab him a few times with your new soul-sword so he stays dead!"
Pixie glowered. "Do I have to?"
So she did.
It was really late by the time they finally got back to the Xavier institute, and most of the students were in varying states of exhaustion. Josh was practically dead on his feet thanks to all the healing he had done, up to and including repairing Sooraya's broken back and regrowing David's heart for him (and sealing up the hole). … He corrected David's eyesight while he was at it. It was probably unnecessary, but Josh was showing off, and that was before he'd been completely, utterly exhausted by the use of his powers.
The damage to the mansion was already being repaired. Forge was on the job, using Karen wasn't sure what - maybe some kind of nanotech? Whatever it was, it did the work of a hundred construction workers in a few hours.
Their official debriefing by the older X-Men was going to wait until morning. Laura had given her abbreviated report of what had happened in the meantime, and Karen had left Santo to give his version of their involvement. A demon lord attacks the institute looking for revenge on a supposedly dead but turns out not quite dead student. Yeah, that sounded like Thursday to her.
Karen spent what was left of the evening with Irma in a student lounge, though Dawn wound up joining them after about ten minutes, after which it was no longer quite the same, though hey, if the stories she was hearing about how Dawn had handled herself in Limbo were any indication, the girl wasn't all bad. A few others came in thirty minutes after Dawn, Cessily among them.
It was really late by the time Nori came into the lounge. The clock on the wall said it was just a few minutes until midnight. Dawn was asleep on the couch, and Irma had drifted off maybe ten minutes ago, her head on Karen's shoulder. But Nori's eyes were bright as she approached Karen. "Is it true?" Noriko asked excitedly, which was weird, because Nori wasn't that excitable.
Karen blinked. "Is what true?"
Nori glanced at Dawn's sleeping form, then back to Karen. "That Dawn Summers is newly manifested mutant?" she asked. She lowered her voice almost to a whisper. "As in, days ago?"
Karen thought about that for a second. Then she remembered having gone down to the Cerebra chamber while the Three-in-One were scanning for new mutants. That there had been no new mutants since M-Day, when nine tenths of the world's mutants had lost their powers. Which had been the same day she'd arrived in this world. The significance of the question hit her full force. Was she? Did she count as one, given that she was created by magic, and was apparently host to something called The Key? … Yeah. However she was made, Karen supposed she did count as one. She took a deep breath before nodding. "She is."
A single tear traced its way down Noriko's cheek. To call the expression that followed a smile was wholly inadequate. A smile is a simple thing. A smile was just a flexing of the muscles throughout the mouth and at the corner of the eyes. This was something more. This was hope. "Oh my God," Noriko breathed. She scrubbed at her eyes and laughed. A simple, honest laugh. It drew the eyes of others in the student lounge.
"Nori?" Cessily asked as she approached. "What's going on?"
Noriko looked at Cessily; Cessily saw the hope in Noriko's smile, and her worried expression vanished. "Dawn Summers is a new mutant," Noriko told the other girl, gesturing to Dawn.
Dawn stirred, her eyes blinking open sleepily. "...What?" she asked. "What's going on?"
Noriko turned to Dawn. "Dawn, you just manifested, right? You got your powers just a few days ago, right?"
Dawn nodded, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "Um, yeah. Same night I got here."
Hope dawned in Cessily's eyes. Her face was transformed by it. The shadows seemed to lift, and the whole world seemed just a tiny bit brighter. She let out a happy squeal and hugged Dawn within an inch of her life, leaving the still groggy girl more confused than not.
Others in the room heard the news as well. It passed quickly from person to person, moving first through the school and then through the refugee camp like wildfire, and to ears beyond that camp as well, and with it came Hope to a people who had none. A new mutant had manifested. For the first time since M-Day, the mutants of Earth had reason to believe that maybe, just maybe, they weren't doomed to extinction.
Karen was careful not to disturb Irma when she got up, but Irma woke up anyways. Karen kissed the other girl (who woke up way more quickly than Dawn), and then walked outside into the storm, listening as the whole tenor of the school seemed to change with the news. Students were waking up sleepers to tell them the news. She looked out upon the snow-covered grounds, upon the refugees, the soldiers, the Sentinels, and she smiled.
Irma came up and embraced her from behind, and despite the cold, Karen felt warm. There was a slight tingle as Irma slipped into her thoughts. Karen let her. It had been like that when they'd made love on the astral plane: not an invasion of privacy, but an intimacy that was impossible to put into words. A sharing of self that didn't combine the two, but was just… she didn't know what. There weren't words for it.
Irma suddenly stiffened in shock. "... Karen?"
Karen was pretty sure she wasn't going to like whatever came next. "Yeah?" she asked.
Most people couldn't communicate emotion very well with a whisper, but the worry and the fear came through in Irma's just fine. And not just fear, but fear for Karen. "I think someone's been in your head," Irma whispered.
Karen blinked. "What!?"
Midnight fell. There was a flicker of movement in the corner of her eye. Like a cloud passing over the moon. Despite the fear now growing in her heart, Karen focused on it instantly: something tiny was circling over the soccer pitch behind the girls' dorm, back and forth and back and forth over one particular spot. Her eyes widened as she recognized it. It was a Power Ring.
A Black Power Ring. The one they had missed. The one that had gone through the portal to Earth 616 at the last second.
And even as hope sprang anew within the mutant breast, a voice as cold and terrible as the grave spoke into the darkness of the gathering night: "Robert Reynolds of Earth. Rise."
End Chapter 03
A shorter chapter than the rest, but that's mostly because I decided not to make fill this chapter with all things Kyle Rayner. He'll be a much bigger thing next chapter, though. As for the trip to Limbo, a lot of this was finding a balance between making sure that people who hadn't read the comic wouldn't be lost and that people who had read the comic wouldn't be bored.
re: The Man, Irma's discovery, possible countermeasuresExpect Karen's crippling vulnerability to psychic powers to change in the near future. No more butt-monkey.
re: Bill and Ted
Karen's from 1997. To her, that's a much more current reference. -.-
Belasco landed next to her. He snapped his fingers, and her body floated into the air as he examined her. "Interesting," he said, looking her directly in the eye as he studied her. "A compound soul. It's been ages since I've seen one. It reeks of the science of man, and yet… there is a distinct touch of Chaos to it. And..." he sniffed the air, "Touched by a Hellmouth as well."
"Don't look into his eyes, Karen!" Sooraya whispered from where she lay motionless on her back upon a piece of rubble. "Shaitan can kill with a look!"
Karen let loose with a full strength blast of her heat vision directly into Belasco's eyeballs. "My breasts are down here, asshole!" she shouted. "... Wait. No." She shook her head. "Having someone ogle your soul is confusing. Can we pretend I said something badass instead?"