A/N: This is a story – written between 1995 and 1997 - that used to be on an old geocities site that became defunct several years ago – I rediscovered it, did some minimal editing, and decided to re-post it onto .

Hunter and the Prey
-Maven Alysse -August 12, 1996

(Excalibur fan fiction)

A/N: This story uses characters from the Marvel Universe, mainly from the comic book series 'Excalibur'. None of these characters are mine, nor do I intend any copyright violations in using them in this story. The song used is based on a song by Erasure called 'The Man in the Moon', slight variations were made in order to make it fit the story better. Again, no copyright violations are intended. Enjoy the story in the spirit it was intended to be read.

Hunter and the Prey

Communique -

To: Mr. Gregory Valence

From:

Subject: Possible hunting contract

Mr. Valence,

Our company is aware of your success as a big game hunter, as well as your disregard for the proper laws and procedures when dealing with the legality of hunting certain species. We are also aware of your current dissatisfaction in the sport. We believe that we may have a solution to your problem. If you are interested in learning of the whereabouts of a suitable opponent and entering into an arrangement with us, meet our operative at the Haley's Comet Club, on the balcony, tonight at eight o'clock.

Gregory Valence sat back in his chair as a lovely young woman approached his table. "Sorry, sweetheart, the seat's already taken, but come back in an hour or two and we'll see what we can do." He smiled engagingly, his blue eyes sparkled.

The woman smiled thinly, and brushed back her shoulder length brown hair as she took a seat. "Mr. Valence, I assume by your presence here that you received our message and are, indeed, interested in what we propose."

Eyes narrowed, he propped his chin with a fist and stared at her. "So what's all this about, sweetheart? What's with all the cloak and dagger stuff?"

"All in good time, Mr. Valence. Was your last hunt a success?"

"A success? Yes. Fulfilling? No."

"Why is that, Mr. Valence?"

"The creature didn't even put up a fight. There was no challenge in the hunt. Now what exactly is this all about? Who are you, and what is this company you work for?"

She changed the subject again, keeping him off-balance. "What is your view on mutants?"

He crossed his arms. "I think they should all be eliminated."

She pulled out a manilla folder and flipped through it. "Yes, and I see you've been arrested several times for trying to do just that? Am I right?"

"How...?"

"And that each time, powerful influences caused the charges to be dropped or, in the case of thirteen year old you killed, reduced. Correct?" Valence nodded and she continued. "As the message indicated, we know quite a bit about you, Mr. Valence."

"Is this a hustle? Blackmail?"

She looked shocked, "Dear me, no. How positively primitive. No, on the contrary, the people I work for would very much like to hire your unique abilities in a small problem we are having."

"You and these people are?"

"If you need a name, you may call me Constance. I work for the 'And God Created Man Corporation'."

"Bunch of purists, right?"

"Exactly. We, as yourself, believe that mutants are abominations in the eyes of God. That they aren't human and should be treated accordingly."

Valence shrugged, "So, what does that have to do with me?"

The woman smiled slightly, "That brings us back to our small problem. Our congregation has been slackening off recently and more mutant tolerance activity has been present. The head executives of the corporation have decided on a course of action that, if it doesn't bring more people into our church, will at least rid us of a mutant that my employer has a particular hatred for." She glanced back into the file. "May I ask you as to your methods of hunting?"

Valence settled back in his chair, curious as to the direction the conversation was going. "I spend a few days getting used to the habits of the creature I am hunting, getting its schedule down and such. Then, once I have that, I set up an ambush spot in which I capture the beast."

"Do you always capture your prey before trying to kill it?"

"Yes."

Her brown eyes narrowed in speculation. "Why?"

"The instant of death can reveal so much about a creature. I feel it my duty, as a hunter, to witness that moment in my kills. Otherwise, it's an empty victory, nothing of worth has been gained."

"The arrangement we have for you will be different from what you normally encounter."

"Lady, so far, you haven't done anything out of the ordinary. In fact, you're a lot calmer than some of the people I get."

She smiled and continued, "As I mentioned before, our congregation is thinning. We need something that will bring people back to the church. The head executive thought that a public exorcism would put the fear of God back into the community."

"An exorcism?" He shook his head. "I still don't see what that has to do with me. Demons are not my specialty."

"Oh, but they could be." At his confused look, she pulled out another folder and handed it to him.

He was silent for a few minutes as he read and absorbed the information. He looked up at her with a horrible grin. "Count me in."

She smiled, stood and shook hands with him. "It's a pleasure doing business with you, sir. All the information you need, both about the mutant and the special arrangements for afterward, are there in the folder. I'm sure my employer will be pleased at your enthusiasm for the challenge. If you require any assistance, please don't hesitate to contact us." With that, she picked up the remaining folder and left.

Gregory Valence waited until the woman was out of sight before he left the club himself. He would have to plan his next move very carefully. A predatory smile of anticipation crossed his lined face. He was going to enjoy this.

Hunter/Prey/Hunter/Prey/Hunter/Prey

A few days earlier:

"Kurt?" Brian Braddock came down the stairs of the lighthouse, arrived in the kitchen, map in hand. "Do you think that..." He broke off and frowned as he found the kitchen deserted. He went into the living room and searched, "Kurt?" Nothing. 'Maybe he's downstairs in the computer room.' In the computer room, he found Rachel and Kitty working on something. He stared at the confusing images for a moment before he finally asked, "What are you two doing?"

Kitty glanced up briefly with a grin. "Oh, hi Bri. I challenged Rach to a game of dungeons and dragons."

"Which I am regretting. She's beating me badly."

Kitty laughed, "Your fault for excepting when you know that I've been playing for some time."

Rachel nodded, "True. Aha, I've got you now!"

"Oh." Brian left briefly to check the other room. He came back, frustrated.

"What's the matter, Brian?" Kitty deftly maneuvered her character out of range and fired upon Rachel. Rachel groaned as she took on severe damage. Kitty laughed in glee, "You thought!"

"Do either of you know where Kurt is? I had a question about one of the maps he gave me."

Rachel thought for a moment, "He took the Blackbird to the mainland in order to attend church. He should be back in a couple of hours."

Brian grimaced, "That's right. I'd forgotten. He had even mentioned it to me earlier this morning." He pulled up a chair and watched the two girls play for a while. "I grew up Catholic, but I don't go to church much any more. Kurt always tries to make time for it. Kitty, when he was with the X-Men, was he always this dedicated?"

Kitty nodded, "Yes. He was."

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Kurt Wagner stood in the back of the chapel, trying to go unnoticed. Even though the building was warm, he wore a long coat, fully buttoned and the collar up to conceal his blue furred skin and his prehensile tail, his three-fingered hands deep in the pockets. A scarf covered his lower face masking sharp white fangs, a hat was pulled low to cover his pointed ears, and sunglasses hid his yellow, pupil-less eyes from casual glances. But if anyone took a real close look, they'd notice those things he tried so hard to hide.

He wished he could have come openly to church, with no disguise, but he knew from previous experiences that his appearance would frighten the other parishioners. He'd be known as a mutant, or worse, thought of as a demon. He winced away from the sudden memory of a young woman's horror and disgust when he rescued her from a burning building. She had called him a demon and had ran from him in fear. She had looked only as far as his appearance and not at who he really was inside.

He dragged his attention back to the front of the church. The elderly priest who was giving the sermon today was one of his favorites. Father Francise O'Donnel preached peace and tolerance for all races and beings and he claimed that his one wish was for humans and mutants to live together in harmony.

Kurt remembered the first time he had heard Father Francise. He wanted to know if the Father truly believed what he preached, or if he said one thing and did another. After the mass, Kurt had gone to confession. The confessional was divided in such a matter that the confessor could either kneel behind a screen and remain anonymous, or sit in front of the father and converse face to face with him. Kurt had entered the room and knelt behind the screen. "Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession."

"Bring your sins to light, my son, that they may be absolved and forgiven by God," the priest's voice was kindly.

"I ask forgiveness for something that humanity calls a crime and a sin, but that which I cannot either control or deny."

"The Lord died for us so that all sins would be forgiven. If you take Him fully into your life and heart, then you shall be forgiven."

Kurt took a deep breath. "Father, I am a mutant." He braced himself, expecting a cry of disgust or hatred from the man. Other priests had withdrawn from him, either physically, or emotionally. Some asking him politely to leave, others driving him forth with blows. Still others had riled up the remaining congregation who had gone after him in mobs, calling him demon-spawn and the devil's own.

To his surprise, all the father did was sigh and say, "I see. What exactly is the extent of your mutation, if I may ask? You don't have to answer."

Kurt was still on guard, but hopeful, this had been the farthest he'd gotten with most priests. "I can stick to walls and ceilings with my hands and feet and I'm a teleporter."

The old man chuckled, "That last sure would come in handy if I was ever running late for a mass." Kurt relaxed even more. "There's something else, as well, isn't there?"

"My physical appearance is such that I must take special precautions so as not to frighten other people."

Father Francise sounded thoughtful, "Would plastic surgery be of any benefit, my son?"

"No, father. I'm afraid it wouldn't."

A pause. "Would you mind showing yourself? If you'd prefer not to, I would understand."

Kurt smiled to himself, "You know, father, I believe you would at that." Kurt stood and took off his hat, coat, scarf, and sunglasses. He placed them carefully on the floor, aware that he was stalling. Underneath, he wore grey dress slacks, a white button down shirt, a grey jacket and tie. The tie had been a gift from Kitty. It was blue, with darker blue x's all over it, and he wore it whenever he could. He knew that no one would know how he was dressed, and he could have worn more comfortable clothing to church, but he would have known, as would God, so he always dressed very nicely when going to church.

His brow creased in trepidation as he slowly made his way around the screen and finally faced the priest.

The father looked to be in his mid-fifties, his hair a steel gray. Kindly blue eyes peered from behind bifocal glasses. The man's face was seamed with lines, most of them gained from a life-time of laughing and looking for the good in people. As Kurt came into view, his eyes widened a bit in shock and understanding. "Yes, I can see why you would have some problems. Not many are able to look beyond the exterior to what lies within."

Kurt nodded gratefully and seated himself. "You are very correct, father."

"What is your name, my son."

"Kurt Wagner."

"I am Father Francise O'Donnal." He extended his hand and, after a slight hesitation, Kurt shook it. The priest's grip was firm and strong. "I try to keep abreast of all the mutants in the community. You're new here, are you not?"

"Yes, I've only been here a few weeks."

"And I'll bet that in all that time, you haven't particularly enjoyed proper Christian hospitality from the other churches."

"How..?"

"How do I know that? Simple, if you had, you wouldn't be here, obviously still looking for a place. I believe that everyone should be given the chance to prove themselves, without fear or prejudice."

"May I ask a question, father?"

"Of course."

"Why do you preach tolerance? It's not very popular, and it could get you into some real trouble, either with your superiors or within the community."

Father Francise leaned back in his chair for a moment, thinking. "It may not be popular, but it's the right thing to do. I'm too old to worry what others think of my methods, and I know too much about both my superiors and members in this community for them to really do anything to me. Anyway, one of my great-nephews is a mutant. He's an empath and one hell of a listener. He's in school now learning to be a psychiatrist for troubled children. I tell you, he's going to go far in that field. Bright kid, he is."

Kurt finally let all his defenses down and relaxed completely in the old priest's presence. "Thank you."

"For what?" The priest looked a bit confused.

"For being honest with me. For allowing me a chance. Not many do."

Father Francise nodded, "I know. It's not always easy, is it?" Kurt shook his head. "Do you have anyone to talk to, my son? Someone who may understand what you're going through?"

"I moved here with a few other mutants. They aren't very religious, so I don't expect that you'll see them around."

"Are any of them...?"

"As easy to spot as me?" Kurt smiled. "No, they all look like normal humans."

The priest placed a gentle hand on Kurt's arm. "If you ever need someone to talk to, about anything at all, even if they're not religious matters, my door is always open to you, my son."

Kurt felt his eyes tear up, "You are truly a special man, Father Francise O'Donnal. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

The old man patted his arm again, then reached into a pocket. He handed Kurt a business card. "Here. This top one's the chapel's number, and my home number is on the bottom. Day or night, you need to talk, give me a call."

"I will, father. Danke."

That had been two and a half years ago. In that time, Kurt and Father Francise had become close friends. They had gotten together many times just to talk about what was going on in the world and in each others' lives.

Hunter/Prey/Hunter/Prey/Hunter/Prey

At the end of mass, Kurt met Father Francise out back. The priest greeted him warmly. "Kurt, I'm so glad to see you. What did you think of the sermon?"

"Superb, as always, mein freund." He paused, glanced at the darkening sky. Storm clouds had gathered from the coast and now threatened rain.

"Something bothers you, my son. Would you care to tell me?"

Kurt closed his eyes, felt the wind on his face, "You know me well." He glanced at the priest then away at the clouds again. "I won't be at church for the next couple of weeks."

"Are you going on a trip?"

"Yes. I've got to get away from the lighthouse for awhile. I love them all dearly, but they are beginning to drive me to distraction."

Father Francise chuckled, "I can imagine. It must be getting crowded in there with the five of you living together."

"Don't forget Lockheed and Widget. They both have been constantly underfoot as well."

"Where are you planning on going?"

"Either to visit my foster mother, or I'll go to one of the national parks in North America. Plenty of room to lose myself without running into anyone."

"Have you told the others yet?"

Kurt sighed and shook his head, "Not yet. I hope they'll understand."

Father Francise put a hand on his shoulder, "If they're half the friends they claim to be, they'll understand."

Kurt smiled, "Thank you, father. You always seem to know what to say."

"There's something else, isn't there. It's not just the crowded conditions, is it?"

Kurt sighed, "I'm tired, father. For every step forward we seem to make regarding peaceful coexistence with non-mutants, there's someone willing to send us five steps back. I'm tired of all the subtle, and not so subtle, talk of how mutants are no good and should have no rights at all. Most of all, I'm tired of having to wear all of this," he gestured angrily at his coat and scarf, "each and every time I want to go somewhere. Or being stared at like a freak when my friends talk me into going someplace without a disguise. I just want to go somewhere where I won't have to worry about or deal with those things for awhile." Kurt rubbed his forehead wearily, "Is that wrong? To want some time to myself? I know I have a responsibility to the group, but I just want to get away from it all for a short time. Or am I just trying to avoid the unavoidable?" Father Francise's heart went out to the young man in front of him. A man who definitely needed some encouragement and comfort. "No, my son. It's not wrong. Everyone needs time to themselves. Time to re-evaluate their lives and goals. Go with my blessing. Get some rest, relax, think about what it is you really want to do with the rest of your life."

"Danke, father." A smile lit up Kurt's face and he hugged the older man tightly.

Father Francise returned the hug, "Be careful out there. Don't take any foolish risks. If you have the need to talk, any time, you have my number."

"I'll see you in a couple of weeks. Take care."

"You too, my son, you too."

Hunter/Prey/Hunter/Prey/Hunter/Prey

A few stars peeked through the blanket of clouds that covered the small island. Lightening flashed and thunder could be heard in the distance. Unnoticed by the figure perched on top of the lighthouse, it began to gently rain.

Kurt sighed. The news had depressed him even more than usual tonight. Several purists had been arrested for harassing the owners and employees of establishments that catered to or hired mutants. They were out on bail and the charges would probably be dropped. A bomb had brought down a plane that was carrying a senator who was actively against mutants. The police were rounding up all known mutants in the area for questioning. There was a "scandal" at a local high school when it was found that one of the school teachers was a mutant. The poor lady was a low-grade telepath, who couldn't make out what she heard most of the time. She was being fired and a school-wide testing of all the teachers would soon be conducted. Immediately after the news, an advertisement for a purist church was put on the air. Completely disgusted, Kurt had teleported to the roof and had been there for several hours now.

He still hadn't told the others of his decision to take a break. He wasn't sure how to tell them, or how they would take it. All he did know was that if he didn't get a break soon, he was going to start making mistakes. Possibly fatal ones. As the leader of Excalibur, he expected a lot of himself and of the others. He was afraid of getting them seriously injured or even killed during a fight when he knew he wasn't in tip top condition himself.

It started raining harder.

Hunter/Prey/Hunter/Prey/Hunter/Prey

Kitty knocked on Kurt's door, "Kurt? You in there?" The door swung open showing a spartan room. A bed, dresser, bedside table with lamp, and bookcase were the only pieces of furniture in the room, along with a couple of exercise bars hanging from the ceiling. She smiled at Kurt's collection of books; Don Quixote shared shelf space with Hamlet, Robin Hood, and the Bible. A few group pictures of Excalibur, the X-Men, and Kurt's circus family, and a photo of his girlfriend, Amanda Septon, graced the walls. She glanced out the window, the rain was coming down pretty hard, the ocean being lit up by the occasional bolt of lightening. She could feel the thunder in her chest and ears. She took another look around the room and, frowning, shut the door.

Going down the hall, she ran into Meggan. "Meggan, have you seen Kurt anywhere?"

The beautiful blonde shook her head, the tips of her ears peeking though her hair, "We were watching the six o'clock news together when he suddenly teleported. I haven't seen him since."

"Thanks Meggan."

"Your welcome, Kitty." She skipped up the stairs, out of sight.

Kitty had already checked the equipment room, the exercise room, computer room, living room, and kitchen. Kurt hadn't been in any of them. She was running out of options as his room had been the only other place she could think of.

'Alright Pryde, think. If you were Kurt, where would you be?' Kitty's brow wrinkled for a moment, 'I know that he goes to the top of the lighthouse every now and then. It's quiet up there, good for thinking when you're stumped or upset.' Thunder rumbled outside. 'But would he be out there in this weather? Only one way to find out.' With a thought, Kitty Pryde, the youngest member of Excalibur caused her body to turn incorporeal. She literally walked on air and phased through the ceiling. She went through several levels of the lighthouse before she came out on top of the building. The rain was pouring down, making the roof extremely slippery. 'Gods, if I was solid, I'd have fallen off already.' She peered through the rain and soon spotted Kurt crouched at the edge of the roof, staring out over the ocean. She walked up to him, "Kurt?" There was no response. Kurt didn't appear to have heard her. Concerned, she set her feet and turned solid so that she could place a hand on his shoulder. The rain instantly plastered her long brown hair to her skull and drenched her t-shirt and jeans. "Kurt?"

He jumped at her touch, whirling to face her. "Vas?" His yellow eyes seemed to shine in the dark. His face was blank for a moment in shock, then recognition flooded through him, "Kitty?"

She had taken a step back at his reaction and would have slipped and fallen if he had not grabbed one of her elbows to steady her. "Kurt? Are you alright, Kurt?"

He blinked water out of his eyes, "What are you doing out here? Is something wrong?"

"No. Just... I was worried about you." Pause. "You missed dinner." She paused again, knowing how silly that sounded, "Is everything okay?"

He shook his head, then nodded, "Ja. Just got a bit depressed by the news and needed some space to think. I'm sorry I worried you." Kitty shivered violently as a gust of wind tried to blow the two of them off the roof. Immediately, Kurt became aware of the weather. "Ah, leibchen. You are soaked to the bone. Come on, let's get you inside and dried off." He teleported her to her bathroom and handed her a towel. "Get warmed and get some rest. I'll see you in the morning."

"Alright." She wanted to talk to him some more, but knew that she wouldn't get much out of Kurt. "Goodnight Kurt." She smiled at him, only wrinkling her nose slightly at the scent of smoke and brimstone left in the air after Kurt teleported to his own room.

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The woman known as Constance stood at the edge of the moors, staring at the building where her employer planned on holding the exorcism. She shivered in the cool wind, the sky threatening rain. "Why here, sir?"

"Don't you know these moors, Constance? They are the same where the Hound of the Baskerville is said to roam. I felt it fitting to destroy a demon where another has been said to live."

"He's not really a demon, is he?"

Graydon Creed grimaced, "No. But for this to work, the others must believe that it is a real demon. Killing mutants is forbidden, but doing an exorcism? That's still allowed. So, we redefine what it is we are killing and it'll be excusable." He started back to his car. "See that the building is ready for use. I'll be back in a few days to see how you are doing."

"Yes, sir." Creed left her and she entered the old building, already making a mental list of things that were needed to convert the area into a convincing church. It wasn't until she reached the basement that she began to feel uneasy. The hallway was cold, dark and a bit damp. She tried to shake off the feeling as she explored the rooms. She pushed open one of the doors, wincing at the loud creaking. The room had no windows and it was extremely dark. She flipped the light switch, but nothing happened. As she turned to leave, the door shut behind her, leaving her in darkness. Uneasiness turned into fear as a cold blue light shone from one of the corners. A strangled scream caught in her throat and she lost consciousness as the light wrapped itself around her, a voice murmured in her ear, "Relax, this won't hurt. Much." Thunder could be heard crashing outside.

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The day dawned bright and cool, the night's rain having scrubbed the air clean. Kurt sat on the balcony railing, feet swinging, gazing down at the sea where the waves crashed against the rocks below. The others were sitting behind him, having breakfast. Kitty came up beside Kurt, carrying a plate of toast. "Here you go, Kurt."

Kurt accepted the plate with a smile and returned his gaze to the sea, eating absently. After a few bites, he set the plate aside.

Kitty and Rachel exchanged glances. Meggan bit her lip in distress as Kurt's behavior was very odd to her. Finally, Brian said what was on everyone's mind. "Are you doing alright, Kurt?"

"Humn?" He looked up, noticed that everyone was regarding him with concerned faces. He sighed, brushed his hands off, and turned to face the group. This wasn't going to be easy for him, he hated admitting to weakness. "I need a break. I'm going to the mountains for a couple of weeks."

"Whyever for?" Rachel asked.

"Well, for one, my concentration is shot to hell. I can't seem to pay much attention to anything lately." Kitty nodded, remembering how Kurt had seemed oblivious to the rain last night, and how he hadn't heard her until she was right on top of him. "If I'm like this now, I'll be useless if we are in a fight. And that's inexcusable."

Meggan joined Kurt on the railing. "You have been pushing yourself pretty hard lately."

"I'm afraid I'll end up getting someone killed."

"Nonsense," Brian retorted.

Kurt just gazed at him. For the first time, the others took a good look at him. He had lost weight over the past few weeks. Exhaustion lined his face. He had dark circles under his eyes, which were somewhat hidden by his blue fur, but apparent once you looked for them. He looked tired, not just physically, but emotionally as well. His eyes were lusterless and resigned.

Rachel sent out a tentative mental probe towards him. She disliked doing so, for it felt like an invasion of her teammates' privacy. She was shocked to pick up an echo of depression and a general hopelessness from him. She had never felt anything like that from him before. He was usually the group's optimist, always bolstering the others' spirits. "Oh, Kurt. How long have you felt like this?"

He shrugged. "Couple of weeks. Ever since that Senator proposed that anti- mutant bill."

"And it's been getting worse every day. Why didn't you say something? We could have helped."

"To be honest, I just don't know. At first, it seemed silly to burden you all with it. Then..." he waved a hand helplessly in the air.

Rachel hazard a guess. "It was too big to mention?"

"Yes."

Meggan laid a hand on Kurt's arm. "What can we do to help?"

"Give me your blessing to go?"

"Of course. What kind of teammates would we be if we didn't?" Brian stood from the breakfast table. "Would you like some help deciding where to go?"

Kurt looked deeply into each person's face, saw their sincerity and love for him. "I'd like that very much." He smiled, feeling better already.

Kurt and the other members of Excalibur flew high over the Alps in the Blackbird later that same day. Kurt was outfitted with all the gear he would need for surviving in the wild for two weeks. The whole team had accompanied him in order to give him a good send off. Finding a level clearing near the foot of the mountains, Brian brought the plane down for a landing. Kurt gave everyone a hug goodbye. "I've got the transmitter/tracker. I'll give you a call in a couple of days to let you know how I am."

"Be sure to let us know if you get into any trouble." Kitty instructed.

Kurt smiled and kissed her cheek. "Yes, mother." He chuckled. "Don't worry so much, I'll be fine." He nodded to the rest of the group. "Auf Wiedersehen. I'll see you all in two weeks." With that, he shouldered his pack and left the clearing, making his way towards the mountains. After a few minutes, he heard the Blackbird take off and saw it fly overhead. It quickly disappeared from sight and Kurt was left alone.

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Kurt spent a wonderful week trekking though the mountains and surrounding forests. He lived off the land; fashioned fishing rods out of tree branches and thin vines for the delicious trout that lived in the streams, used his stealth and quickness to catch rabbits and small water fowl, and supplemented his diet with berries, nuts, and roots.

Every now and then, he felt a twinge of guilt for abandoning his teammates, but they knew where he was in case an emergency came up, the transmitter/tracker was clipped securely to his belt at all times, and they had understood his need to go. However, he had to admit that not having to worry about anyone other than himself took a tremendous weight off. By the second day, his depression had lifted and his appetite had returned. For the first time in weeks, he had felt energetic enough to finish one of his many complex workouts. A grove of trees served as his gymnasium. He swung, flipped, leaped, and sprung from the branches with abandon, losing himself in the feel of muscles stretching to their limits, taking great pleasure in the freedom of movement.

At night, he would make camp. His hammock would hang from two convenient trees, or if there were no trees nearby, he would sleep on the ground. He would prepare a simple meal for himself from the items he had foraged over a small campfire, and spend most of the night listening to the animals and watching the stars before falling into a contented sleep.

In the mornings, he would do an exercise routine to limber his muscles, break his fast, then break camp. He was steadily making his way over the mountains. By the end of the next week, he should have made it to the bottom, where Brian had promised him someone would be there to pick him up.

He was crossing a small stream when he heard a branch snap behind him. He turned and scanned the forest behind him, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. 'Probably just a rabbit.' He grinned at himself, 'Paranoid? Just a touch.' He hopped across the stream and continued along his way.

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Gregory Valence cursed under his breath. He had almost given himself away. The damn tree branch and broken beneath his foot before he could successfully shift his weight. He ducked behind a tree in time to keep the mutant from spotting him.

He had been following the mutant known as Nightcrawler for two days now, and it hadn't been easy. Nightcrawler, or Kurt Wagner as the folder had also named him, didn't seem to have a specific destination in mind, other than to cross over the mountains. He moved from area to area seemingly at random, frequently taking to the trees and traveling by jumping from limb to limb. Valence had lost the trail several times and had only rediscovered it because the mutant didn't know he was being followed and so hadn't bothered to hide his tracks.

Valence was at odds with himself. He abhorred the very thought of the existence of mutants, but this mutant, Nightcrawler, had a peculiar grace that fascinated him. The folder mentioned that the mutant had been part of a circus at one point, the ease and grace with which Nightcrawler performed his morning exercises gave proof to that claim. Valence had never had so much trouble keeping his quarry in sight. He enjoyed the challenge, it would make the subsequent capture all the more meaningful and satisfying.

The folder had also mentioned that the mutant could teleport, though Valence had yet to see this. It made his task all that much harder. He would have to sneak up on the mutant and subdue him before he was able to disappear. It wouldn't do to have the mutant escape due to carelessness.

Valence had read all the information that was given to him about Nightcrawler and had done some additional research himself, so he knew quite a bit about the mutant's life, as well as something about the company he kept. Specifically, the group that called itself Excalibur. He assumed that Nightcrawler had a way of contacting this group if he should need help. Valence would have to move fast in order to keep the mutant from alerting his friends to his predicament.

After a few minutes, assured that Nightcrawler didn't suspect anything, Valence resumed trailing him. He knew that once he delivered the mutant to the church, a ceremony would be performed upon it. It would be a kind of exorcism, where the mutant would be condemned by the congregation and priests as a demon, then "sent back to hell," where it belonged. Not only was Valence to secure the demon for the ceremony, he was promised a position on the altar so as to be present during the death of the mutant.

Valence watched as the mutant began setting up camp nearby a small lake. He checked his equipment. Valence was quite familiar with the use of tranquilizer guns. Some of his clients would request he catch an endangered animal for them so that they could put the creature on display. The tranquilizer worked quickly, but the noise usually startled the creature into a panic before the drug came into effect. He didn't want that to happen here, for the mutant might take those few precious seconds to teleport someplace where Valence would not be able to find him.

He pulled a small case out of one of his many pockets and opened it carefully. Inside lay a small bone tube, a blow gun he had picked up in Africa and beside it, three tiny darts, specifically made to imitate the size and shape of bee stingers. From another pocket he pulled out a small glass bottle. It was filled with chloral hydrate, a sedative that worked in an hour, causing the victim to fall into a natural sleep. Its effects lasted for several hours, more than enough time to get the mutant to the safehouse before another dose would be needed. As the blow gun was silent, the mutant would believe a bee had stung it, and since it was nighttime, would not link the sleepiness he felt with the bee sting, allowing Valence to collect the mutant at his leisure.

Dipping the dart into the liquid and placing it into the blow gun, he maneuvered into position, belly down behind a screen of bushes. The mutant was sitting beside the small campfire he had made, smoking fish he had caught earlier. Valence had drawn a bead on the back of Nightcrawler's neck when he heard a beeping noise. As the mutant reached for his belt, Valence blew hard, sending the small dart through the air. It struck the mutant's neck. The mutant swore softly and slapped at his neck with a three fingered hand. It grimaced at the "stinger" it found, shrugged and turned on a device at his belt.

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Kurt had finished smoking his fish when the transmitter/tracker started beeping, indicating that one of his friends needed to talk to him. He was reaching for it when he felt a sharp pain in the back of his neck. He swore softly and slapped at his neck. He pulled out a stinger, grimacing. 'Good thing I'm not allergic.' He shrugged the pain off and thumbed on the device. "Hello?"

"Hi, Kurt." Kitty's bright voice emanated from the small speaker.

"Greetings, Kitty. How are you?" Kurt smiled, glad for a friendly voice.

"Hey, that's my line. Actually, I'm doing pretty good."

"Is there anything wrong?"

"No, just wanted to see how you were doing. Everyone here misses you. Especially Amanda."

"I'm doing much better, thank you. I miss everyone too."

"How much longer will you be gone?"

"One more week. Brian said he'll have someone waiting for me at the small village we stayed at once."

"I remember. I'll ask him if I can come along." Her voice became sly. "'Cause I won't see you when you get back if Amanda has anything to say about it."

Kurt laughed at that. "How is everyone?"

"Well, Rachel is still a bit upset that she hadn't noticed your condition earlier, but she's getting over it. Meggan and I have been keeping her busy redecorating the lighthouse, you should see it."

"Just stay away from my room, that's all I ask."

Kitty giggled, "Too late, you weren't there to protest, so we hit that place first."

He groaned, "What did you do?"

"Uh uh. You'll have to come home if you want to see what we've done to it. It's a surprise."

Kurt laughed again. "I'm glad you called."

"Yeah, me too. What have you been up to?"

"Fishing mainly. Some tracking. Saw a large hawk today. It was gliding down from the top of the mountain, wings outspread on an air current. Absolutely gorgeous."

Kitty sighed, "Wish I could have seen it."

"I'll take you camping one day, leibchen."

"Promise?"

"Promise." Kurt yawned. "How's Brian?"

"Oh," she snorted, "Lockheed has decided that Brian needs more distractions. He's been underfoot the entire time you've been gone."

"That's because he doesn't have me to harass anymore."

"True. Oh, hey, Rach's here. Let me put her on."

"Alright." Kurt began to eat his fish, before it got cold.

"Hi, Kurt. How are you doing?"

"Very well. I think this is just what the doctor ordered." Kurt stifled another yawn. "Fresh air definitely agrees with me. How have you been?"

Rachel sighed, "Meggan and Kitty have been driving me crazy. They have me helping them redecorate the lighthouse. Brian spends his days out, in order to keep from being recruited to help."

"Hah. Don't let him get out of it."

"Oh, I won't. Believe me. He'll be involved whether he likes it or not."

"So what did you do to my room?"

"We..." Kurt heard Kitty shush her in the background. "Um, nothing. You'll have to see for yourself." Kurt yawned again. "Look, you sound real tired. Get some sleep. When will we hear from you again?"

"If all goes well, I'll be home in no less than a week."

"Okay, we'll see you then. Have fun, Kurt."

"I will. Take care."

Kitty's voice rang out. "Bye, Kurt. See you soon."

"Goodnight you two. Give my love to the others."

"We will." The connection was broken and Kurt was alone again with his thoughts. His smile was wistful as he turned off the transmitter. It was nice to have such caring friends. He yawned again, suddenly tired. He finished his meal and carefully banked the fire. He stretched out in the hammock and was soon fast asleep.

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Gregory Valence waited a good twenty minutes to ensure that the drug had taken effect before creeping into the mutant's camp. He studied his quarry closely for the first time in person. He could see how this mutant could be considered a demon. The two-toed feet, three fingered hands, forked tail, blue fur, and pointed ears all gave him an inhuman appearance. From the pictures and descriptions, Valence also knew the mutant sported fangs and pupil-less yellow eyes along with the ability to climb virtually any surface and teleport. All of this would frighten any normal human who was not used to such things, and startle even those who were familiar with mutants, most of them being much more humanistic in appearance. The church had picked a perfect mutant to condemn as demonkind. No one would be able to believe, just by looking at him, that Nightcrawler was human. There would be no trouble in conducting the exorcism, as long as the creature didn't escape.

Valence took the transmitter off of Nightcrawler's belt, dropped it onto the ground, and crushed it beneath his boot. The noise causing Nightcrawler to shift in his sleep, a frown forming between his eyes. Valence pocketed the broken device. When he was finished, there would be no trace that Nightcrawler had ever stopped here for the night.

Valence opened his pack and pulled out two lengths of rope in order to secure the mutant's hands and feet. He was starting on the hands when Nightcrawler's eyes snapped open. Valence was transfixed for a moment by that yellow stare. Nightcrawler struggled upright, dazed and disoriented by the sedative, unable to teleport, but perceiving a threat and willing to deal with it. Valence struggled with him for a moment, marveling at the mutant's strength and resistance to the drug. He lamented the fact that he was to deliver his prey alive to his client as he reached into a pocket for his stun gun. He pressed the gun to the mutant's neck and thumbed the trigger. Nightcrawler's back arched as the electricity jolted through his body, his body going limp as he fell unconscious.

Valence was breathing hard, grinning like a maniac. This was the best hunt he had ever undertaken. The prey had been difficult to track, being unpredictable as well as clever for all that it was unaware of being followed. Subduing the creature had also been a challenge, he had never known of anything that could withstand the drug he had administered. Speaking of which, Valence pulled out another dart, dipped it in the chloral hydrate and gave the mutant another dose to ensure he would remain asleep until they were at the safehouse. He put in a call for his transportation and within the hour, he and his prize where gone, leaving behind an empty clearing.

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Hours later, Valence arrived at the safehouse where the mutant would be held and the ceremony would be conducted. Constance was waiting as the helicopter came in for a landing, her face expressionless. An older gentleman in a business suit stood beside her and stepped forward as Valence disembarked. "Mr. Valence. I'm Graydon Creed, founder of the And God Created Man Corporation. I trust all went well."

Valence nodded tersely, "He's all trussed up and out like a light."

"Excellent." Creed snapped his fingers and two large men made their way to the helicopter and unloaded the motionless body of Nightcrawler and took him into the building.

Valence watched in interest at the speed and efficiency with which the procedure was undertaken. Creed had to be powerful to be able to hire professional such as them. He turned back to Creed. "The sedative I gave him will wear off in about an hour, then he should wake but be disoriented and confused for about thirty minutes. That would be the best time to administer whatever drug you had in mind for keeping him awake but unable to teleport."

Creed nodded. "I wish to commend you on your quick work. I honestly didn't expect you for another three days, in the least."

Shrugged, "I had an opportunity and took it. Also, no one expects to hear from him in at least a week. By the time anyone notices anything amiss, the ceremony will been completed and the mutant will be dead."

"How do you know of this?"

"He had a transmitter with him. I overheard his last conversation with his friends."

"And the transmitter?"

"I destroyed it."

Creed nodded his approval. "Would you care to join me for a small repast? I'm just going to see to the installation of our 'guest.'" He turned to the young lady. "Constance, please show Mr. Valence to his rooms. Dinner will be served in two hours."

"Of course, Mr. Creed. If you'll follow me, Mr. Valence." Constance let Valence into the house and up the stairs.

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Creed separated from the other two, descended another set of stairs into the basement. The same two men who had carried Nightcrawler into the building stood guard at one of the doors. "Is the mutant secured?"

"Yes, sir."

Creed entered the room, "No one is to disturb me. Is that understood?"

"Yes sir."

He closed the door behind him and paused as his eyes adjusted to the gloom. For a moment, he feared that Nightcrawler had found some way to escape. The room looked empty. He sagged momentarily in relief as he finally spotted the mutant. He was propped up in one of the corners, shackled at ankle and wrist. He knelt beside the mutant, grabbed a handful of hair and jerked his head upright. He spent a few moments staring into his face. His eyes glinted maliciously, "So, brother. Soon, I will be rid of you, forever." He released his grip, letting Kurt's head fall to his chest. He stood and viciously kicked Nightcrawler in the ribs. Kurt groaned and came half-way awake. Creed smiled thinly and aimed another kick at his brother. "When I have disposed of you, I shall turn my attention to the rest of our esteemed 'family.'" He knelt down as Nightcrawler groaned again and blinked blearily. "Ah, awake are we? Well, we don't want you disappearing on us so soon." He pulled out a syringe. "This is chlordiazepoxide and, as you may know, being schooled in the medical arts as you are, it is a minor tranquilizer. I find that it causes a general tiredness to those who are injected, as well as an inability to concentrate. And since your teleportation powers are based solely on concentration, I don't think you'll be going anywhere anytime soon." He grabbed Kurt's arm and plunged the needle in. "It also has some very interesting side effects, as I'm sure you'll discover for yourself. Enjoy your stay, Kurt Wagner. You won't be here for long." With that, he turned and left the room.

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Kurt shifted on the hard stone floor, wincing as his ribs grated against one another. He was pretty sure that a couple of them were broken, and a few others were probably fractured. The chlordiazepoxide had given him a raging headache, making him nauseous and blurring his vision. Several times, his brother had been down to torment him, hinting at the pain Kurt would soon feel. One side of his face was swollen and his bottom lip had split where Creed had back-handed him, his ring slicing into his cheek. He had lost track of the time he had spent chained up. There were no windows in the room and no source of light unless the door was opened. He had not seen anyone else, had been given nothing to eat or drink since he was put down here, didn't know where he was, nor did he know what was going to happen next. He prayed that he would be able to find a way out of this predicament before he ended up dead at his brother's hand.

Light flooded the room as the door opened. He squinted, wincing away from the light as his eyes teared up from the unaccustomed brightness. He shaded his eyes with one arm, trying to see who it was. A slim figure came towards him and he soon was able to make out the blurred image of a young woman holding a cup. She knelt beside him and offered the drink to him. He just stared at her for a moment. "It's only water, Mr. Wagner." She helped him drink, then sat back, studying him.

"What day is it?"

"Wednesday. You've been here since Monday."

She continued studying him so he stared back. What he saw was a slender young woman with brownish blonde hair. She had a thin face and pale skin. She looked to be in her early twenties. "Who are you?"

Her green eyes regarded him candidly, intensely, but her voice was indifferent. "They call me Constance, for now. Not that it'll do you any good to know. You'll probably be dead soon."

"Why are you doing this?"

She smiled and leaned closer to whisper in his ear. "Because I can. Being here, right now, interests me." She held his gaze, something flashed in her eyes that he couldn't interpret. Then her tone became more serious, professional, "I've been asked by Mr. Creed to ensure, no matter what may happen in the next few days, that you will not survive." She didn't seem to mind the scrutiny with which he watched her. There was a pause. "Don't you want to know what exactly is going to happen to you?" He didn't answer. Another pause. She shrugged, said brightly, "Well, I'll tell you anyway." She sat cross-legged in front of him, rolling the cup between her hands, unconcerned with how close she sat near him. "Mr. Creed plans to publicly execute you during a mass in two days. He'll call it an exorcism, but it's really just an excuse he will give to kill you." She looked at him solemnly, "He hates you, you know."

Kurt, shuddered, nodded, and laughed humorlessly, "Yes, he does, doesn't he?"

She tossed her head towards the door, "He'll be down in an hour or so in order to give you your dose of tranquilizer as well as another little surprise."

Kurt closed his eyes, the room was beginning to spin and he was losing track of the conversation. "Surprise?"

"Yes. He's planning on giving you some Disopyramide. That's an antiarrhythmic drug, isn't it? It will cause you significant pain, if it doesn't kill you."

He opened his eyes, searching her face. "Why are you here, really?"

She looked away, a frown forming between her eyes. "I have my reasons." She stood, then smiled. "I must be going now." She started to leave then stopped. "Oh, I almost forgot." She pointed at him and spoke a word that sparked all his nerve endings for a split second before leaving him numb and cold.

"What... what did you do?" he asked, trying to catch his breath.

"You'll find out later. If you live." Impulsively, she leaned over and kissed his uninjured cheek. "Goodbye, Kurt Wagner. We shan't speak again like this." She left the room. Kurt was again alone in the darkened cell, more confused than ever.

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Father Francise O'Donnal sat on the bus on his way home. It was Thursday, the day he visited the local hospitals and heard the confessions of the infirm. It had been a very long day and he was looking forward to making a cup of tea and curling up with a good book. Two large men sat behind him, seeming to have an argument of some kind. "I tell you, that's what I saw."

The other man scoffed, his voice much deeper. "I don't believe you. Not in the least."

"It's true, I tell you. The priest plans an exorcism in order to rid the world of the creature."

Father O'Donnal turned in his seat, startled. "Excuse me, gentlemen. I couldn't help but overhear. You say that your priest is going to perform an exorcism?"

The first man frowned, threatened dangerously. "Yeah, what's it to you?"

The man with the deep voice elbowed his mate in the ribs, "Hey, Johnny. Watch it. Can't you see he's a priest?"

Johnny finally noticed the backwards collar and cross the elderly gentleman was wearing. He shrugged sheepishly, "Sorry, padre. No offense."

Father Francise smiled, "None taken. About this exorcism?"

"Yeah, it's gonna be this Friday. He's having a special ceremony and everything."

"What kind of exorcism will it be, do you know?"

"Father Grey's gettin' rid of an evil demon."

His friend scoffed again. "I still say you didn't neither see it. You just want everyone to think you're hot stuff."

Johnny punched the man's arm. "I did too see it. Father Grey's got it trapped in a room in the basement of the church. Held with silver chains and special prayers. I was walking past the door when he was imprisoning the demon."

Father Francise felt a touch of cold on his spine. For some reason, apprehension filled him. Carefully, he asked his next question. "What did this demon look like? Could you tell?"

Johnny nodded, "Yeah, I saw it pretty well. It had pointy ears and a forked tail, twisted hands and feet, just like all the books say. Weird thing though, you'd think that if they lived in hell, they'd be red. But this one was blue." He shrugged. "Oh, here's my stop. Bye, padre." The two men disembarked from the bus before Father Francise could collect himself and ask where the exorcism was taking place.

'It couldn't possibly be Kurt. He's in North America, on a much needed vacation. But to be on the safe side, I think I'll visit those friends of his.' He put in a prayer, "Lord, please watch over my friend, Kurt. See that he comes to no harm."

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Father Francise nervously stood at the door to the lighthouse and knocked. In the years he had known Kurt, he had never met his friends, there had never really been the time. Kurt spoke of them so often, though, that Father Francise was positive he would be able to recognize them. The sun was setting, turning the sea and sky red. He knocked on the door again, hoping someone was home. His apprehension as to Kurt's well-being had increased as he made his way to the lonely lighthouse. He was about to knock again when the door swung open. A large blonde-haired man filled the doorway. "May I help you, sir?" His deep voice resonated in the still air.

Father Francise nodded, "My name is Father Francise O'Donnal. I'm a friend of Kurt Wagner's."

Recognition flooded the large man's face. "Ah, Father Francise. I'm Brian Braddock." He shook hands with the priest. "Kurt's mentioned you frequently. Won't you come in?" He ushered him into the living room. "I'm afraid Kurt isn't here just now. He went on vacation."

Father Francise sat on the couch, "I know." He was silent for a moment than plunged ahead. "I heard something very disturbing today and I came over to check that it didn't have anything to do with Kurt."

Brian looked serious, "What did you hear, father?"

"An exorcism is going to be performed tomorrow and the description of the demon reminded me too much of Kurt for comfort. Can you get a hold of him to make sure he's all right?"

"Of course, father. If you'll follow me." Brian led Father Francise down to the computer room.

Kitty was on the computer, typing up a paper for school. "Hi, Brian. Who's that?"

"This is Kurt's friend, Father Francise."

Kitty leaped up and stuck out her hand. "It's a real pleasure to meet you, father. Kurt's told me a lot about you."

"He's mentioned you as well, quite fondly, in fact."

"What brings you out here?"

"Concern for Kurt."

Brian cut in, "Kitty, where is the transmitter?" He turned to Father Francise, "Kurt took one in case of an emergency."

She blinked, "Oh, sorry." She moved a couple of notebooks off the desk revealing the small transmitter. She turned it on and spoke into it. "Hey, Kurt. You there?"

No answer.

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Miles away, a figure moved into Gregory Valence's room and searched until the transmitter that was taken from Nightcrawler was found. The crushed casing and rattling noise from within gave the impression that it was broken beyond repair. The figure pressed a small button on the side of the device, activating the tracker. A tiny pipping noise started. Silently, the figure hid the device above the windowsill, covering it with the drapes, then left the room.)

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Kitty frowned and tried again. "Kurt, can you read me? Yo, fuzzy elf, pick up."

Brian moved forward, "Where is he?" He exchanged worried glances with the priest. "Kitty, try the tracking system. See if that's working."

Kitty nodded. She brought up a new screen on the computer, a map of the globe, divided into longitude and latitude. She pressed a button on the transmitter and a tiny pipping noise could be heard. "This can't be right. It must be broken."

"What does it say?"

"According to this," she pointed to the screen, "Kurt is here in Great Britain."

"Where?"

"On the moors. But he's supposed to be in North America."

Father Francise crossed himself, "I feared this would happen."

Kitty looked from the father to Brian and back again, "What would happen. What's going on?"

Brian raised a hand to calm her. "Let's get the others here, first. Where are Meggan and Rachel?"

"Upstairs, painting Rachel's room."

"Get them and bring them here. Kurt's in trouble and we're going to have to hurry."

Her eyes widened and without a word, she phased up through the ceiling. Father Francise just stared after her in wonder. "I'd heard about it, but seeing it is something entirely different."

Brian just grinned humorlessly and shrugged.

A few moments later, the five of them were in the computer room, the members of Excalibur listened intently as Father Francise related all that he had heard. "So, what can we do?"

Brian paced back and forth. "The tracker should lead us right to where Kurt is being held. We need to figure out exactly what's going on, and when, if we're to rescue Kurt."

Rachel spoke up. "If Kurt is in trouble, we have to assume he's been injured or otherwise incapacitated, otherwise, he would have teleported to safety."

"You're right. Rachel, would you be able to psychically check if Kurt is in the building and in what condition he's in?"

"If we're close enough, I'd know if he's there whether he was conscious or not."

Kitty interrupted, "Guys, aren't we forgetting something?"

Brian frowned, "What?"

"If whoever it is caught Kurt, they'd have to know something about him in order to keep him from teleporting away. We have to assume they might be ready for a rescue attempt. Maybe even have the building shielded."

"She's right." Father Francise stood. "They might be waiting for you, might even know what you look like and have orders to either kill you on sight or to kill Kurt when you show up." He glanced at each person intently, "I have an idea that should get us into the building without alerting our enemies as to our intentions. Are you willing to give it a try?"

Meggan nodded, "We'll do anything to ensure Kurt's safety, father."

Rachel interrupted, "What about Amanda? Shouldn't we contact her?"

Brian shook his head, "She's in Germany, visiting her mother. I sent a message, but she won't be back before we would have to move."

She nodded and motioned for Father Francise to continue.

"Alright, listen carefully, this is what we're going to do." He proceeded to outline his plan, the entire team agreeing.

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Father Francise had entered the "church" with not so much as a sideways glance from the "attendants." He sat in one of the pews in the back and appeared to be praying. In actuality, he related the dimensions of the room and location of possible obstacles to Excalibur through a small microphone hidden in his collar. A receiver was firmly in his ear, masking as a hearing aid.

The church filled up rapidly, the members of the 'And God Created Man Church' anticipating anything their beloved Father Grey may have to say. Father Francise nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand on his arm. He looked up to see a young woman beside him, her green eyes regarding him with some amusement. "Father, if you'll come with me, I think you'll find this other seat more to your liking." Bewildered, Father Francise followed the young woman towards the side of the church. She pointed out a seat and he thanked her. "I've noticed that older gentlemen sometimes need fresh air in the middle of a long mass. There's a door behind this curtain that is normally kept unlocked, just for that occurrence. As the other doors will be secured once mass had begun, I felt you would benefit from an unobtrusive exit." She stared hard into his eyes, a certain understanding passing between them before she turned to leave. "Now, if you'll excuse me, the mass is about to begin."

Father Francise related all the woman had told him to Brian and the others and settled down to await the right moment to save his friend.

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Kurt was in trouble, but didn't know how serious it was. He was experiencing a psychotic reaction from the drugs. The amount of pain he was in, as well as being on the brink of starvation didn't help matters any either. He now longer knew where he was, or why, nor did he care. He only wished to reduce the pain he felt. Other than the one glass of water Constance had given him, he had not eaten or drank anything in the past five days. The only time he had seen anyone was when his brother came down each day to administer the next dose of drugs into his system. Creed always managed to kick Kurt in the ribs before leaving, no matter how Kurt tried to protect himself. He would end up spending the next couple of hours in a fetal position, trying to keep his insides together. Several of his ribs had multiple breaks in them. And from the blood he kept coughing up, it seemed one of them had pierced a lung. He was running a high fever, and alternately felt like he was burning up or freezing. Blurred vision gave way to severe dizziness and terrible headaches, and he could no longer feel his hands and feet, whether because of the drugs or the tightness of his bonds, he no longer knew or cared. One thing was obvious though, he wouldn't be able to escape on his own even if the opportunity presented itself. On top of all of this, he was having trouble breathing and his heart was beating erratically, occasionally pausing for long periods of time between beats, scaring the hell out of him. Kurt knew he was going to die, he just wished he could see his friends once more before he did.

The two guards entered the room and attempted to remove the chains from the wall. Kurt lashed out at them, growling and snarling, only half-sane. A guard pulled out a blackjack and hit him with it, dazing him long enough for the two men to grab him by his arms and drag him out of the room and up a set of stairs. He struggled briefly with them, but was too weak to escape. Kurt almost passed out as the unaccustomed movement sent waves of pain through his body. He thought he heard a small voice murmur something, and some of the pain disappeared. He blinked in confusion, calming down somewhat as the pain diminished. The two men led him to a room that was divided by a curtain. He could hear voices on the other side, including that of his brother. The two men wrapped his chains around two poles, pulling his arms upward, forcing him to straighten up. He bit back a cry of pain as his ribs protested to the change in position.

Suddenly, his brother's voice rang out. "Behold the demon!"

The curtain was drawn back, showing him that he was on some sort of stage, his brother off to one side standing behind a podium. Kurt could blearily make out a large group of people staring up at him. Gasps and stifled screams could be heard. Kurt just glared at his brother, lips pulled back in a feral snarl, his fangs glinting in the light. He tugged uselessly at his bonds, wanting nothing more at that moment than to wrap his hands around Creed's throat and kill him.

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Father Francise swore, "Holy Mary, Mother of God. What have they done to you, Kurt?" He hardly noticed as Brian, Rachel, and Meggan slipped into the church through the side door, splitting up to surround the congregation. He watched in horror as Father Grey paced the length of the stage, taunting Kurt with twisted passages from the bible in order to support what he was about to do. Kurt was breathing fast and shallowly, his hair and fur drenched in sweat. He looked horrible. Father Francise crossed himself as Kurt let out a howl of pure rage and agony. The rest of the congregation drawing back in fear at the "demon." Father Francise was normally a very laid back type of person, it took a lot to make him angry, but right now, he was absolutely livid with fury. How anyone could treat another person like this was beyond his comprehension. Father Grey picked up a large silver knife from the podium and began to pace closer to Kurt. Father Francise whispered into the mike, "Now, for God's sake, now!"

Father Grey, a.k.a. Graydon Creed, lifted the knife high, "Now, fiendish demon, return to hell where you came from." He was about to plunge the blade into Kurt's chest when the lights went out.

The crowd fell silent when someone suddenly screamed, "Dear Lord, look!"

Creed whirled about. A bluish fog was creeping down the aisle, people shrank away from its cold touch. Father Francise knew that Rachel was creating the fog, using her telepathic and telekinetic powers, but was still awed by everyone's reaction to it. From the fog, a beautiful apparition with wings appeared. A man cried out, "It's the Angel of Death, she's come for the demon!"

Creed stood in shock, knife held loosely in his hand. Meggan, using her innate shapeshifting abilities to turn herself into the angel everyone wished to see, spoke, "Fools!" The dulcet tones of her voice echoed through the room. "Wouldst thou then commit murder before the eyes of the Lord, our God?"

Another man spoke up, tremulously, "Murder? Is it murder to send a demon back to hell?"

"To send a demon back from whence it came is no sin, but to kill a human whose appearance is not of its choosing is. I say to thee, kill this man, and you commit murder most foul in the presence of God. Thou wouldst all be condemned to the very hell you seek to send this one." She pointed her finger at them, sending them shrinking away. "Those who knew of this atrocity will be dealt with, those who knew not shall be free to leave. GO!"

The congregation scrambled over one another in a desperate attempt to escape the judgment of God's angel.

During the confusion, Kitty had phased through the back of the building and came up behind Kurt. Kurt jerked away from her touch, then subsided as she phased him through one of his wrist chains. "Kitty?" His voice a hoarse whisper, broken, and barely comprehensible.

"We're here, Kurt. Everything's going to be all right now." She tried not to show how horrified she was by his injuries, it was a miracle he was standing, let alone conscious. "Just hang in there, okay?"

He nodded weakly as Kitty phased both of his legs out of the ankle shackles.

Rachel was using her powers to keep people from trampling each other. She also checked each member to see if they knew what had really been going on here. When she found one, she telepathically informed Brian who would see to it that they were confined in another room until the authorities could be summoned.

Meggan continued to move towards the altar, hoping to reach the priest before he could escape as everyone else was otherwise occupied. She noticed a young woman standing off to one side, staring up at the platform intently.

Kurt was hanging from one arm, trying to keep the weight off his wrist, the ribs shifting and grating against one another. Kitty was about to phase him free when she was hit over the head from behind by one of the guards. Kurt kicked out, caught the man squarely in the temple and knocked him out. Creed turned towards Kurt, a sneer on his face. "You'll not escape me that easily, brother. You shall die!" He threw the knife at Kurt, it sped through the air towards his heart.

Creed was chilled to the bone as a shriek of denial reverberated through the room. Constance fell bonelessly to the ground, like a puppet whose strings have been cut. A bluish glow flowed out of the woman and streaked through the air between Kurt and the hurtling knife. The knife reached the glow and stopped in mid-air. Kurt's eyes widened in surprise, his brother's in shock. The knife floated in the air for a moment then flashed through the air back towards Creed. Creed moved at the last moment, the knife thudding into his shoulder rather than his chest. He wailed in pain and fell backwards off the platform.

The blue glow drifted in front of Kurt, a tendril reaching out and caressing his face. He heard a girl's voice softly in his head, "I'm so sorry." His breathing eased slightly as a few of the fractures in his ribs healed. He felt a kiss on his cheek as the glow disappeared, then he passed out.

Kitty had come to a moment later, to see Kurt hanging from one wrist. She quickly released him and gently eased him to the ground. His breathing was better, but his heartbeat was extremely erratic and he didn't respond to her calls. She had called for help, Father Francise found a phone and called the authorities and the local hospital, then joined her on the platform, keeping an anxious eye on Kurt's motionless form.

By the time the ambulance and police had arrived, Father Grey had disappeared. No one knew who he really was, or if they did they weren't saying, nor did anyone know where he went. The woman, Constance, had been given a reprimand and released due to a condition of complete amnesia of what had transpired over the past few days. Only Meggan had heard Father Francise's murmured protest. "Could have sworn she had green eyes, not brown, and her hair had been more blonde than brown before." A few of the guards, along with Gregory Valence, had been arrested on the grounds of kidnapping and attempted murder.

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Kurt had been taken to the hospital and immediately placed into intensive care. The attendants and doctors didn't hesitate a moment when they saw their patient. They were more interested in Kurt's condition, not his appearance. His injuries were more serious than had been previously thought and he had slipped into a deep coma. The doctors weren't very optimistic on his recovery. "Apparently, he's been given some type of drug, possibly several, that is causing all of his systems to shut down. The main problem is that we don't know what he was given. Anything we do could kill him if it reacts adversely with whatever is already in his system. Further testing will have to be done before we can risk anything. I am sorry."

No one was allowed entrance into Kurt's room until the doctor's were positive that their presence wouldn't worsen Kurt's condition. However, they could see him through the large glass plates that separated them from him. Kurt was connected to a breathing apparatus, tubes in his nose and down his throat. Machines monitored his irregular heart rate and blood pressure. Several i.v.'s were in his arms, doing their best to alleviate his dehydration and malnourishment. His upper body was swathed in bandages, twelve ribs were broken or fractured. An operation had been conducted to remove one rib that had been shattered. Shards had been found piercing Kurt's left lung, one shard dangerously close to his heart. He was in stable, but critical, condition.

Brian had left earlier to fetch Amanda as she arrived back in Great Britain. The others had remained at the hospital. Rachel comforted Kitty in the waiting room, the two of them curled in each others' arms on the couch, crying. Father Francise and Meggan had stationed themselves outside Kurt's room, praying and watching. Everyone waited for the doctors to announce that Kurt was improving, all hoping that he would get well.

Brian and Amanda arrived a few hours later. Everyone greeted her with a hug and a word of encouragement. "I want to see him."

They all escorted her to Kurt's room. Amanda let out a sob as she got her first look at him. She leaned her head against the glass. "What have the doctors said?"

Brian put a hand on her shoulder. "He's in a coma." She sighed. "They can't do anything until they find out what kind of drugs were administered. They don't want to risk killing him by giving the wrong treatment."

She turned to Father Francise. "Brian told me how you helped him. Thank you." She hugged him, dropping her forehead on his shoulder as she began to cry. Large sobs wracking her frame. He held her tight. Amanda finally got a hold of herself. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and looked up at everyone. "I'm sorry." She gave a humorless laugh, "It's strange. When I was visiting Mother, she insisted that I practice every healing song I know. It's as if she knew something like this was going to happen." She sniffed, nodding her thanks as Father Francise handed her his handkerchief. "If you guys can provide a distraction, I'd like to give one of them a try."

The others agreed. Kitty phased Amanda into the room and Rachel shielded their presence from others' view. Brian, Meggan, and Father Francise intercepted any nurse or doctor who tried to get in before Amanda was done.

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Amanda sat beside Kurt on his bed, careful not to move him. She took his hand and studied his face, her heart aching. She closed her eyes, dropped into a light trance, and reached out to Kurt.

She started to sing:

Stories from the deepest part of my heart. / You're going under, no need to wonder / Why I'm falling apart.

(She loves him so much, she can't imagine her life without him.)

Scattered all around this topsy turvy room. / Will I find the one who takes me there too soon?

(He had withdrawn deep within himself, trying to escape the pain that raged through him like waves of red lightening. She feared she would not be able to reach him.)

When the night is cold and you can't find anyone. / And you're will to survive's at an all time low. / Your spirit will fly and return with a newfound energy. / Keep it within and delight for I love you so.

(Amanda went to the very core of Kurt's being, the last place he could possibly be. There, she was amazed to see a blue glow that was barring Kurt from the pain. She could see him on the other side of the glow, being held gently by another figure. Amanda had also become aware of a strange echo to her healing song, only, a section had been changed. Instead of "for I love you so" it sounded like "for you are loved so." She didn't know what to make of it, but sensed that the glow was all that was keeping Kurt from death.)

Whispering in some lonesome voice / You're afraid to come out of the dark. / Sinking down into the covers / Sleeping to the beat of your heart.

(This was the critical point. Right now, Kurt felt protected, away from the pain that had plagued him for days now. Unless she could convince him to leave that protected shell and allow himself to heal, he could very well die within himself.)

You must fight to return, please don't descend into the dark abyss.

(She gave a start as the blue glow wrapped itself around her, drawing her into the center of Kurt's being. Once there, she definitely could make out the figure of a young woman cradling Kurt in her arms. Amanda couldn't get a clear look of the girl, all she caught were green eyes and a warm smile.

"Amanda."

Amanda frowned, "Who are you?"

"It doesn't matter. All that matters is that you are here to help Kurt, correct?"

"Yes."

The girl sighed, "He won't wake up until I release him from this protective sphere, and I can't do that just yet."

Amanda got angry, "What do you mean...?"

The girl raised a hand, asking for silence. "What I mean is that there are enough drugs in his system to kill him several times over. This shield is all that's keeping him from dying horribly." She paused, collected her thoughts, "Tell the doctors that he has been given large quantities of both chlordiazepoxide, a tranquilizer, and disopyramide, an antiarrhythmic drug. With that information, they should be able to purge them from his system. He should be out of danger in three days. Until then, I'll continue to keep him safe."

Amanda stared in wonder at the girl. "Why are you doing this for him?"

She smiled, "I have my reasons. Go now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to wake him when it's all over." She paused again, "Do you mind if I use that healing song of yours? He was responding to it earlier."

Amanda nodded, took another loving look at Kurt and moved out of the protective sphere to return to her own body. Behind her, she could hear the girl's singing:)

When the night is cold and you can't find anyone, / And your will to survive's at an all time low, / Your spirit will fly and return with a newfound energy. / Keep it within and delight for you are loved so.

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Amanda opened her eyes to the hospital room. She gazed at Kurt for a moment before she stood, feeling stiff. She nodded to Kitty who phased the two of them out of Kurt's room. "Get a doctor, quick."

Kitty ran for a doctor. The gentleman came over to the worried group. Amanda introduced herself, "Look, I know the names of the drugs that Kurt was administered. Chlordiazepoxide, a tranquilizer, and disopyramide, an antiarrhythmic. Both were given in great quantities."

The doctor adjusted his glasses in perplexity, "May I ask how you know this?"

She just looked at him, "I asked him."

"You asked him. Of course. Why didn't I think of that?" The doctor shrugged, mumbled to himself, but at once acted on the information.

Rachel sensed that Amanda wasn't telling the whole truth. "What is it Amanda? What did you find?"

She took a deep breath and told the group what she had found. "I don't know who it is," she concluded, "but she is definitely trying to save Kurt's life, and that's all I care about right now."

Rachel frowned, "I don't detect any other presence, though. Only Kurt's, and his is real faint. Are you sure?"

"I know what I saw. A young woman. She promised to keep Kurt safe." She paused pensively, "Whoever did this to Kurt really wanted to make sure he didn't survive. He put enough drugs into Kurt to ensure death. If it hadn't been for this girl, we would have lost him within minutes of rescue."

At that moment, a police officer approached the group. "Pardon me, sir. But we felt you may want to know. This "Father Grey" was a real security nut, he had the entire place set up with cameras. There's enough evidence on those tapes to convict each and every one of our prisoners of kidnapping and attempted murder. Pictures of the ring leader are being circulated as we speak, if he has a criminal record, we'll know who he is within hours."

Brian nodded his thanks, "Would we be able to view any of these tapes? I, for one, want to know exactly what happened in there to my friend."

The officer thought for a moment, "Yes, I believe that can be arranged. If you'd like, I can have something set up here in the hospital so you can be nearby in case there are any changes in your friend's condition."

"Thank you. We'd appreciate that."

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A few minutes later, the members of Excalibur, Father Francise, Amanda, and two police officers were in one of the nurses' lounge going through the video tapes that had been confiscated from the church. "We tried to put them in some type of chronological order. We'll fast forward through those sections where nothing seems to be going on. In some cases, there is even some audio."

The room was silent, punctuated every now and then by gasps of outrage and cries of denial, as the group watched exactly what Kurt went through during his five days of imprisonment.

They watched as Father Grey entered the room where an unconscious Nightcrawler lay chained to the far wall. The camera angle was such that it was directed at Kurt, catching his tormentor mainly from the back. He knelt beside Kurt, grabbed a handful of hair and jerked back his head. The sound was low, but they could just make out the man's words.

"So, brother. Soon, I will be rid of you, forever." He released his grip, letting Kurt's head fall to his chest. He stood and viciously kicked Nightcrawler in the ribs.

(Brother? The others exchanged startled glances.)

Kurt groaned and came half-way awake. Father Grey aimed another kick at him and continued, "When I have disposed of you, I shall turn my attention to the rest of our esteemed 'family.'" He knelt down as Nightcrawler groaned again and blinked blearily. "Ah, awake are we? Well, we don't want you disappearing on us so soon." He pulled something out of one of his pockets and waved it in front of Kurt's face. "This is chlordiazepoxide and, as you may know, being schooled in the medical arts as you are, it is a minor tranquilizer. I find that it causes a general tiredness to those who are injected, as well as an inability to concentrate. And since your teleportation powers are based solely on concentration, I don't think you'll be going anywhere anytime soon."

(Kitty blinked, she had been right, this man apparently knew everything about Kurt, as well as how to hold him.)

He grabbed Kurt's arm and plunged the needle in. "It also has some very interesting side effects, as I'm sure you'll discover for yourself. Enjoy your stay, Kurt Wagner. You won't be here for long." With that, he turned and left the room.

(Brian's clenched the arms of his chair, his grip leaving indentations in the metal. How he wanted to throttle that man!)

The police officer fast forwarded the tape. "We also thought you may find this section helpful.

Kurt looked horrible, his breathing was reedy, and his expression pained as he shifted positions. Light flooded the room as the door opened and they watched as he squinted, wincing away from the light. He shaded his eyes with one arm as a young woman entered the room. She was carrying a cup of something.

(Father Francise pointed, "That's Constance, the one who helped us.)

She knelt beside him and offered the drink to him. They saw Kurt hesitate. "It's only water, Mr. Wagner." She helped him drink, then sat back.

"What day is it?" His voice was raspy and laden with pain, but his eyes were bright and alert.

"Wednesday. You've been here since Monday."

"Who are you?"

Her voice was indifferent when she answered. "They call me Constance, for now. Not that it'll do you any good to know. You'll probably be dead soon."

(Amanda frowned, something about the conversation didn't seem right to her. Almost as if it were... Rehearsed? Planned?)

"Why are you doing this?"

She whispered something to him, causing his eyes to widen briefly. Then she leaned back again, her tone professional sounding. "I've been asked by Mr. Creed to ensure, no matter what may happen in the next few days, that you will not survive."

(Creed! Now they had a last name to go along with the picture of the wayward Father.)

There was a pause. "Don't you want to know what exactly is going to happen to you?" He didn't answer. Another pause. She shrugged, said brightly, "Well, I'll tell you anyway." She sat cross-legged in front of him, rolling the cup between her hands. "Mr. Creed plans to publicly execute you during a mass in two days. He'll call it an exorcism, but it's really just an excuse he will give to kill you. He hates you, you know."

Kurt, shuddered, nodded, and laughed humorlessly, "Yes, he does, doesn't he?"

(The others shuddered as well, who was this woman, who could be so blatant about the death of another living being? Also, Kurt didn't sound at all surprised at the information of his upcoming death. Had he ran into this person before? Could the man really be his brother?)

She tossed her head towards the door, "He'll be down in an hour or so in order to give you your dose of tranquilizer as well as another little surprise."

Kurt closed his eyes, "Surprise?"

"Yes. He's planning on giving you some Disopyramide. That's an antiarrhythmic drug, isn't it? It will cause you significant pain, if it doesn't kill you."

He opened his eyes, "Why are you here, really?"

She looked away from Kurt, and directly into the camera, a frown forming between her eyes. "I have my reasons."

(Father Francise leaned forward, he knew that the woman's eyes had been green when he met her, and here was the proof.

(Rachel noticed that the girl seemed to know that the conversation was being monitored and was acting accordingly.

(Amanda was jolted by the familiar phrase, the girl who was helping Kurt had said that. Could they be the same person? But how could that be?)

They watched as the girl got ready to leave. "I must be going now." She started to leave then stopped. "Oh, I almost forgot." She pointed at Kurt and spoke a word. A bluish glow flowed from her fingers and swirled around him, enveloping him completely before disappearing.

(It happened so quickly that no one was sure what had occurred. They stopped the tape, rewound it, and played it back in slow motion before they saw what really happened. Amanda began nodding to herself. She recognized the spell that Constance had used, it was a general spell of protection from poisons with something else added that she couldn't quite identify.)

"What... what did you do?" he asked, trying to catch his breath.

"You'll find out later. If you live." They watched as she leaned over and kissed him. "Goodbye, Kurt Wagner. We shan't speak again like this." She left the room.

(The police officer pulled out that tape and replaced it with another. "This is the actual mass, it shows the rescue and the Father's attempt at murder.)

The entire group watched the entrance of the congregation, including that of Father Francise. They attempted to identify as many people for the police as possible from the camera shots. All they could really hear were a multitude of muted conversations from the members of the church. They watched while Father Francise had knelt, relating all he saw, and the appearance of Constance. How she had moved him without fuss or bother to a position that would help everyone in the end. She gave him a half-bow as she left his side and made her way towards the edge of the altar.

(Father Francise had acquired a photo of Constance as taken when she was brought in for questioning. The woman who he had spoken to, who had helped them claiming to be Constance, really wasn't. The two looked enough alike to be twins. They had the same height, weight, and body structure. But the hair, eyes and facial structures were subtly different. Where Constance had brown hair and eyes, flat cheekbones and a rounded chin, the other had green eyes and brownish blonde hair, high cheekbones and a more pronounced and sharp chin. He wished he knew who she was.)

They listened as Father Grey took to the podium on the platform and gave a mass condemning demons to hell. He proclaimed that it was every good Christian's duty to destroy evil when they saw it. He then announced that he had been given a sign from God, a test of his holiness, to exorcise a foul demon, to send it back to hell from where it came.

("He's using anything he can twist to prove his point. It's men like that that give Christians a bad name." Father Francise raged.)

"Behold the demon!" came the cry.

The curtain that hid the rear of the platform was drawn back, and the group again saw Kurt chained to two beams, his arms extended outward painfully. Gasps and stifled screams could be heard from the congregation. Kurt glared at Father Grey, lips pulled back in a feral snarl, his fangs glinting in the light. They watched as he tugged uselessly at his bonds, snarling in rage and frustration.

(Kitty sobbed, she hadn't seen this part before as she had entered the church from the other side. She buried her face against Rachel's shoulder. Rachel held her tightly, rocking her back and forth. "It's alright, Kitten. He's safe now, remember that." Kitty murmured an affirmative and turned her face to watch the rest, but didn't let her grip loosen.)

The cameras showed a slight disturbance near the side door, but Rachel's telepathic blanketing had hidden their presence from even the cameras as they entered and got into position.

They watched as Father Grey paced the length of the stage, taunting Kurt with twisted passages from the bible in order to support what he was about to do. Kurt looked increasingly more agitated, his breathing fast and shallow. Kurt let out a howl of pure rage and agony.

(Everyone in the room flinched from the pain they could hear in that scream. It sounded like Kurt was being ripped apart from the inside.)

The rest of the congregation drew back from the platform, trying to get away from Kurt. Father Grey picked up a large silver knife from the podium and began to pace closer to Kurt. He lifted the knife high, "Now, fiendish demon, return to hell where you came from." He was about to plunge the blade into Kurt's chest when the lights went out.

(That had been Kitty's doing. She had found a transformer in the back and has fused all the electric circuits together with her phasing powers. The blue fog created by Rachel had provided enough illumination to complete the rescue attempt.)

The crowd fell silent when someone suddenly screamed, "Dear Lord, look!" They saw Father Gray whirl about as a bluish fog creeped down the aisle. People either tried to shrink away from the fog or stood transfixed in their place.

They watched as a beautiful woman with wings, Meggan, stepped out of the fog. "It's the Angel of Death, she's come for the demon!"

"Fools! Wouldst thou then commit murder before the eyes of the Lord, our God?"

(Brian laid a hand on top of Meggan's, they shared a grim smile, glad the deception had worked.)

"Murder? Is it murder to send a demon back to hell?" "To send a demon back from whence it came is no sin, but to kill a human whose appearance is not of its choosing is. I say to thee, kill this man, and you commit murder most foul in the presence of God. Thou wouldst all be condemned to the very hell you seek to send this one. Those who knew of this atrocity will be dealt with, those who knew not shall be free to leave. GO!"

The congregation streamed out of the church, everyone avoiding the center aisle, where Meggan stood. Once at the doors, they burst through them like a dam bursting.

(At that point, the group directed their attention towards the platform, to see exactly what happened, as each one had been busy with other things during that time.)

Kitty appeared on the platform, phasing through the back wall, coming up behind Kurt. Father Gray was screaming out at his congregation to return. They watched as Kurt jerked away from her touch, then subside as she phased him through one of his wrist chains. He apparently said something, for she nodded and replied, putting a calming hand on his arm. He nodded back at her as she phased both of his legs out of the ankle shackles.

They could see Meggan as she continued to move towards the altar. At one side of the platform, Constance could be seen staring intently up at what was going on above.

Kurt was hanging from one arm, trying to keep the weight off his wrist. A guard appeared on the platform, behind Kitty. He rushed her and hit her over the head with something before she could free Kurt completely.

(Kitty shuddered again, she felt like she had let Kurt down. He could have been killed because she hadn't checked for guards.)

Kurt kicked out, catching the man squarely in the temple, knocking him out. Father Gray turned towards Kurt, "You'll not escape me that easily, brother. You shall die!" He threw the knife at Kurt.

(Everyone watched in horror as it sped through the air towards his heart. None of them had known this had happened.)

A shriek of denial reverberated through the room.

(Rachel pointed towards the lower corner of the platform. "Look.")

At the shriek, Constance fell bonelessly to the ground, like a puppet whose strings had been cut. A bluish glow flowed out of the woman and streaked through the air between Kurt and the hurtling knife. The knife reached the glow and stopped in mid-air. It paused for a moment, floating in mid-air, then flashed through the air back towards Father Gray where it lodged into the man's shoulder. A wail of pain could be heard as he fell backwards off the platform, his microphone falling and landing near the chained Nightcrawler. Father Gray dragged himself towards the platform and pushed in one of the panels, revealing a small escape tunnel. Checking to see if he was noticed, he slid into the hole, the door closing behind him.

(Brian swore when he saw that, the rat had escaped. Meggan drew everyone's attention back to the platform; Father Francise crossed himself and whispered a prayer.)

The blue glow drifted in front of Kurt, a tendril reaching out and caressing his face. Kurt looked like he was listening to something, a measure of pain left his face, and he abruptly passed out as the glow disappeared.

(Amanda's tear-streaked face was lit with a smile. She now knew what, if not exactly who, it was that was saving Kurt's life.)

Kitty came to a moment later. She quickly released Kurt from his wrist chain and eased him to the floor. "Kurt? Can you hear me? Kurt?" The microphone picked up everything said on the platform. "Brian! We need an ambulance, quick! Come on Kurt, wake up. You're safe now."

Father Francise had joined her a few minutes later, "I called an ambulance, they'll be here as soon as possible."

Kitty nodded, "Hang on, Kurt. Please." Father Francise started to pray, after a moment, Kitty joined him.

The police officer turned off the television and removed the tape. "I don't know how most of that was accomplished, and frankly, I don't care to know. As long as it worked, and no one was seriously injured, other than that priest and, of course, your friend. With the additional information you have provided, we shouldn't have too much of a problem rounding up everyone who was involved." The officer shook hands with everyone. "I do hope your friend makes it all right." He retrieved the tapes and left the team to their vigil.

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Three days passed, and with each day, Kurt slowly improved. The information Amanda had given them had allowed the doctors to rid Kurt of the poisons within his systems. For all his improvement though, he had yet to regain consciousness. The others were worried, but Amanda calmed them down with her decision to check on Kurt herself that evening.

Once again, Amanda sat beside her lover's bed, holding his hand. The only difference being that Kurt no longer needed any apparatus to help him breath, the tubes had been removed from his throat and nose. She went into a light trance and reached out to him. Immediately, she noticed the change. Before, waves of red lightening signified the pain and destruction being ravaged upon Kurt, now, there was a drastic reduction in the intensity of lightening, though it was still evident. She thought she heard an echo of her healing song, but it disappeared before she could be sure. Knowing the way, she quickly found herself by the protective shield. It wrapped itself around her, drawing her in.

Kurt's "spirit" was aware now, unlike the last time Amanda had been there. As the area come into sharper focus, Kurt looked up and smiled. "Amanda." The two embraced for a long moment.

"I thought I had lost you." She held him at arms length, "You had us all petrified with fear."

"I know." He hugged her again, "I am so glad that you are here." He looked around the "room" for a moment, "For the last few days, up until a few minutes ago, I had the strangest feeling that I wasn't alone. That someone was watching over me."

Amanda smiled, "It's time to go, Kurt." She led him to the boundary. Kurt suddenly stopped. "Kurt?"

He looked tense, agitated. His breathing had sped up and he looked extremely nervous. "I... I don't know if I can. I don't know if I can face all that pain again. It's been so peaceful here. Why can't we stay?"

Her heart went out to him. "Oh, Kurt." She kissed him. "Everything is going to be all right. You're in a hospital now and have been for the past four days. Everyone is waiting for you to wake up. The doctors have done a wonderful job in healing you. I swear to you, the pain won't be as intense as when you left."

"How'd I end up in a hospital?" Stalling.

She smiled at him, "It's a long story. And I'll tell it all to you once you come back with me." He hesitated again. "I know. It'll still hurt for a while. Creed injured you pretty badly. You almost died on us." 'Several times,' she thought. She reached for his hand. "Please?"

He took a deep breath and grasped her hand tightly. He nodded, "I'm ready."

"Okay. Here we go." The two of them stepped through the blue boundary, which instantly disintegrated in a shower of sparks. Amanda heard Kurt's sudden intake of breath, as the pain made itself felt. He gripped her hand even tighter, then adjusted himself to the pain, riding it out, mastering it. As they neared the surface, Amanda felt herself lose contact with Kurt as she returned to her own body.

She opened her eyes, a bit disoriented. Peripherally, she could hear the machines and monitors relate the sudden increases in heart rate, breathing, and brain activity as Kurt finally woke up. She smiled as his eyes opened and focused upon her face. She kissed his hand, tears streamed down her face.

"Welcome back."

He smiled slightly, gave her hand a gentle squeeze, "Danke." His voice was raspy from disuse. He turned his head, his heart lifting at the sight of all of his friends standing at the window. "It's good to be back."

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A few hours later.

After the doctors had been summoned and had marveled over Kurt's quick recovery, they had transferred him out of intensive-care and had allowed his friends to visit him. Each one of them noticed a calmness in Kurt that hadn't been there before. One that they hadn't expected to find after such a harrowing experience. Somehow, Kurt had survived the encounter with death and had come away with the knowledge that, while there are those who would do everything in their power to destroy that which they do not understand, there are others who would do anything to help the ones they love. Any other person would, perhaps, have become embittered by what had happened and turn their backs upon humanity, but Kurt realized that what had occurred had been the idea of only a few individuals', not all of mankind. The way the doctors, nurses, and police officers, all non-mutants, treated him had renewed his faith that mutants and non-mutants could live together in peaceful co-existence.

A police officer arrived some time later. "I hate to bother you, sir. If you could please give me your version of what happened to you."

Kurt nodded, "I'll do my best. The last part of it is hazy, though."

"I understand, sir." The officer took a picture from his notebook and showed it to Kurt. "Do you recognize this man?"

Kurt's yellow eyes narrowed dangerously. His friends looked on in concern, afraid that any sudden shock might worsen his condition. "Yes. I know him." His voice was filled with venom. Amanda winced away from the hatred she could feel from him, as did Rachel. "His name is Graydon Creed." There are those for who peaceful co-existence is not an option.

"If I may ask how it is you know this man?"

"I met him a few years ago, while on a trip to America. He is my half-brother."

The officer did his best to ignore the murmurs of surprise and anger from Kurt's friends. He wrote the information in his notebook and continued. "Please tell me everything you can remember of what happened, sir."

Kurt took a deep breath, trying to regain his calm. After a minute, he opened his eyes and went over his experience, giving as much detail as possible. When he was done, he felt like he had been put through a wringer, done in physically and emotionally. At that point, a doctor bade everyone to leave so that Kurt could get some rest. Everyone wished him well as they reluctantly left the hospital room.

Hunter/Prey/Hunter/Prey/Hunter/Prey

Two weeks later.

Amanda and Kurt stood alone within the building that had once housed the 'And God Created Man Corporation Church'. His friends had not wanted him to return, he had been troubled with nightmares about the place since he had woken. Kurt, however, felt that coming was necessary if he was to put his own demons to rest. Amanda had agreed with him, which is why they were there now. Plus, Amanda had a theory she wanted to test and it seemed more likely to succeed if Kurt was with her.

She had noticed that Kurt had no recollection of the woman who had called herself Constance. Nor did he remember much of what had happened during the rescue, the drugs and starvation having caused a temporary psychosis. His mind had created an alternate version of what was going on in an effort to keep him sane. He believed that he had dreamed any conversations he had that weren't with his brother. It really wasn't surprising. What did puzzle her, though, was how everyone else who had seen or spoke to Constance was slowly forgetting her. They were dismissing what they saw, or thought they saw. Amanda knew that soon, the others would completely forget Constance.

Kurt led Amanda down the stairs to the basement. His hand was cold and sweaty at the same time. She could tell he was nervous, scared, but trying not to show it. Not in any effort to impress her, but to keep himself from bolting. If he gave his fear free reign, he didn't know when he's stop running. He shivered, remembering one of the waking nightmares he had undergone. His own flesh bubbling, boiling, then sliding slowly off, revealing the bones and muscles underneath. Then the bones igniting, burning him down to a pile of ash.

The two reached the very room where Nightcrawler had been held. Light streamed in from the hallway, casting their shadows upon the wall. He glanced apprehensively at the corner. The chains where he had been held had been taken in as evidence, leaving behind gaping holes in the masonry where they had been ripped out of the wall. Kurt absently rubbed his wrists as he looked around the room, as if he could still feel the iron bands around them. Amanda gave his shoulder a squeeze, giving him what comfort she could. He gave her a slight smile and left a few minutes later, he wanted to see the actual "chapel" for himself. Amanda stayed behind, on the pretense of giving Kurt some time to himself, but actually, she wanted to check on something herself.

She stood in the middle of the room and called out softly, "Constance, are you here?"

A few minutes passed and she called again. "Constance? Are you here?"

She waited patiently and was soon rewarded when a voice answered, sighing, "Yes."

"Could you show yourself, please?"

There was another sigh; then, from one of the corners, a bluish glow swirled into view. It brightened and condensed into the form of a young woman. Bright green eyes stared directly into Amanda's own, brownish blonde fell to mid-back, teased by a non-existent breeze, the blue glow settled down to a slight aura all around her, Amanda noticed that she was slightly transparent looking.

"You're name's not really Constance, are you?"

The girl just shook her head wryly and sat indian fashion on the floor, gesturing for Amanda to do likewise.

"Then who are you?"

She shook her head, "Why did you come?"

"Kurt needed to overcome some demons. He was having nightmares about the place and he thought that facing his fear would get rid of it."

"I know why he came. Why did you?"

"I..." Amanda hesitated. "I guess I just wanted to say thank you for saving Kurt's life. He means so much to me, I don't know what I would have done if he had been killed."

"Everyone dies, some of us just do it sooner, that's all." she shifted on the floor, drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. "Besides, even if he had died, Kurt would not have been able to stay away from those he loved for very long. He has a strong spirit."

"Why are you here?"

The girl heaved a sigh, "I used to live nearby. When I was younger, this used to be my favorite place to come to think, read, daydream. I always end up here. You can't imagine how angry I was when my special place was moved into, changed, and violated. I knew what was going to happen, I couldn't let it. I just wish I could have done more."

"You did enough. Kurt's alive, and he's healing well."

"If I could have done everything I wanted to, he wouldn't have been injured in the first place." She stopped, listening. "There's another reason why you're here, isn't there" It was a statement, not a question.

"Had to prove to myself that you were real, that the signs and clues I found actually pointed to the existence of a ghost."

The girl gave her an unreadable look. "Now that you've proved it, what are you going to do?"

"I don't know. There's so much I could learn from you."

"Possibly, but I don't think you're going to be able to learn much from me."

"Why not."

The girl smiled a bit sadly, "Because in exactly five minutes, you will have forgotten all about me."

"I wouldn't do that. I couldn't possibly. This is one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen before. To forget would be unforgivable."

She shrugged, "It's not up to you, or me for that matter. Usually, ghosts are only around to perform some type of task, once it's completed, they move on to the next level, whatever that is. You shouldn't have noticed I was there at all, and you wouldn't have if I hadn't been told that it wasn't Kurt's time yet. As far as I know, you'll start forgetting me soon after our conversation, and will have completely written me off before you leave the building."

From the hallway, the two women could hear Kurt coming down the stairs. "Amanda? You alright?"

They both stood, the young woman smiled at Amanda. "Go to him. Live long and well."

"Thank you. For everything."

She smiled, "Give Kurt my love." Her smile turned into an impish grin, "That is, if you remember." With a final wave, she disappeared in a flash of light.

Kurt came to the door a moment later. "Amanda?"

Amanda met him, hugging him hard. "Let's get out of here, okay?"

"Yeah."

They started up the stairs. "Do you think coming helped any, Kurt?"

He was silent a moment, seriously thinking it over. "I think so." He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "I really do think so."

As the two of them came out of the building and into the light, Amanda thought she heard something behind her. It sounded like a voice, softly singing in the breeze. But when she tried to make it out, it disappeared completely. She shrugged, must have been her imagination. She gripped Kurt's arm more firmly and the two of them walked away.

If they had looked back, they might have noticed a figure on the porch, glowing a soft blue. "Goodbye, Kurt, Amanda. I'll probably be seeing you around someday."