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 .
Disclaimer: The Characters of Excalibur, Amanda Septon, and Dr. Strange do not belong to me but to the creators of Marvel comics. No copyright violations are intended. All other characters are mine. Thank you. This is a companion story to Hunter and Prey, but can be read on its own.
by: Maven Alysse
Kurt Wagner and Amanda Septon were strolling through Central Park. It was two in the morning and the park was lit by a few lamp poles here and there. A gorgeous harvest moon floated impassively through the sky. The couple stopped on a small wrought-iron bridge spanning one of the park's creeks. They didn't speak, just held hands and enjoyed each other's company. They watched the moon's reflection and their own dark silhouettes in the water. Amanda laid her head against Kurt's shoulder with a happy sigh. He kissed the top of her head and leaned his cheek against her blonde hair. They stood that way for a few moments then straightened and made their way through the park - unaware of hostile eyes upon them.
In a darkened room, a man stared into a crystal at the image of Kurt and Amanda strolling through the park. He had been watching the one called "Nightcrawler" on and off for the past week. "He'll make a perfect host. Diask will be pleased," his voice echoed eerily through the empty room. In a hoarse whisper, the man began chanting. The crystal went dark, then began pulsating with a red glow.
A horrible, grating voice emanated from the crystal, "Who dares?"
The man's voice became supplicating, "It is I, great Diask, Victor Lost, your humble servant."
"Why have you disturbed me, Lost? My time is valuable."
Lost swallowed convulsively, his throat dry. "I have found a host that will do you justice."
"Show me," Diask commanded.
Lost closed his eyes and sent a telepathic image of Kurt Wagner, a.k.a. Nightcrawler, to Diask, as well as some of the abilities that Lost had noticed, such as incredible agility and the ability to stick to virtually any surface.
"What kind of creature is this?" Diask asked. "It is not a demon known to me."
"He is not a demon, Lord Diask, he is a mutant, born that way."
Satisfaction filled Diask's voice, "Then he is mortal and will be easy to control. I am pleased, Lost. When will the ceremony be performed?"
A grin lit Lost's face, his eyes glinted, "We shall obtain the mutant tomorrow night. Once he is in our possession, the ceremony to transfer your soul for his will take two hours to complete."
"Excellent. And once I am in the mortal plane, I shall reward your loyalty."
"Thank you, my master," Lost bowed.
"I await your summoning. Do not fail me."
"I shall not." Lost watched as the crystal went dark, his grin widening. Once Diask granted his request to become the most powerful sorcerer on the planet, no one would be able to stop him, not even Dr. Strange.
+The next day - the Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Students+
The members of the X-Men, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Kitty, and Kurt, were gathered near the front door of the mansion. "Sure you don't want ta come, elf?" Wolverine growled. The others had all been invited to a museum opening, though Wolverine did not look particularly thrilled to be going.
"It'll be fun," Kitty coaxed.
Kurt smiled and shook his head. "No, thank you. Amanda and I are going to stay here and watch a movie."
"Suit yerself," Wolverine turned and headed for the car.
Kitty pulled a face then grinned, "We'll stay out a looong time." She giggled and danced out of the way as Kurt playfully aimed a swat at her.
Storm smiled in amusement, "Have a pleasant evening, Kurt." She kissed his cheek.
"You, too, Ororo."
The others got into the car where an impatient Wolverine waited. "Move your tin hide, Pete. Let's get this show on the road."
Colossus sighed, "As you wish, Logan. Goodnight, friend Kurt."
They watched Kurt give a final wave and re-enter the mansion as they headed down the driveway.
+A few hours later+
Storm shook her head, placing a hand on a ornate pendant about her neck, "...and it was nice of him to make such an offer, but I will not part with my jewelry."
"Good, things like that should be worn, not left to rot within some glass case." Logan parked and the four X-Men made their way to the front door.
Kitty reached the door first and tried to open it, grunting as the door hit something.
"What is wrong, Katerina?" Peter called out.
"Something's jamming the door. I'll go remove it." She phased through the door as the others gathered on the front porch.
"Something ain't right," Wolverine scented the air. "Can't put my finger on what it is."
A scraping noise could be heard and the door opened revealing a shaken Kitty. "What is it, little one?" Ororo asked. Kitty just gestured inside and opened the door further.
The others took in the state of the room, shocked. The place was trashed. Part of the bannister at the top of the stairs had been torn away and lay in splintered pieces on the floor. The couch was virtually shredded and the wooden floor was lined with deep gouges. The television had been thrown across the room and the small stand was crushed. The lamp and end table had been smashed to smithereens in one corner.
"Kurt? Amanda?" Kitty ran up the stairs, calling for her two friends.
"Kitty, be careful," Storm warned, dread filling her heart. Colossus checked the rest of the first floor for his friends while Wolverine prowled the room. "Anything?" she asked.
"Yeah, trouble. There were two of them. Never smelled nothin' like 'em. Don't know what they were."
"They were demons." The two whirled around at the unexpected voice, Wolverine's extended his claws. Standing at the door was a tall, distinguished looking gentleman dressed a bit oddly, wearing a long cloak and an amulet at his throat.
"Strange," Wolverine growled. "What the devil are you doing here?" His claws slowly retracted.
"I sensed demons in the area and came to check it out. What has happened here?"
Wolverine sneered, "Nothin' much. Seems the party got out of hand."
To forestall any arguments, Storm stepped forward and placed a hand on Logan's arm. "Hold. He came to help." She turned to Dr. Strange and shook her head, "We're trying to determine that ourselves. We just returned home."
Kitty came running down the stairs, barely acknowledging Dr. Strange's presence. "They aren't upstairs. But it looks like Kurt's room was the entry. The whole wall is collapsed inward." The young teen was barely holding back the tears. Ororo put an arm around her shoulders and held her.
Colossus also returned and shook his head, he hadn't found anything either and the security tapes had all been erased somehow.
Ororo glanced around the room and something caught her eye. She pointed to a mark high on one wall. "What is that?"
Wolverine examined the mark. "Blood." He sniffed, "It's the elf's." Kitty gave a moan. Wolverine ignored the others as a fluttering of curtains drew his attention. He found the sliding glass door shattered, pieces glinting on the grass. There were traces of blood as well as a sickly smelling black substance. The hair on the back of Wolverine's neck stood on end. "They left this way. Took Amanda and the elf. Let's go."
Dr. Strange held out a hand, "You don't know what you're dealing with. These creatures are not of this earth."
Logan's eyes narrowed dangerously and his claws partially extended. "All I know is that my friends are in trouble and that these things can bleed. That's all I need to know. You can either help or stay the hell out of my way." Without another word, Logan leaped through the broken door and into the night, following his friends' trail. The others followed closely behind.
They had traveled through the woods behind the mansion for a few minutes when they were halted by an inhuman howl that pierced the air. Wolverine listened for a moment, the howl sounded vaguely familiar. They moved on. Another howl. Their hair stood on end at the agony in that sound. "That's Nightcrawler," Logan snapped "Move." Wolverine's vision turned red as he raced to his friend's rescue. He was going to kill whoever was hurting the misfit.
The four X-Men and Dr. Strange broke free of the trees onto the top of a cliff overlooking the valley. Several figures could be clearly seen in the moonlight. Two large beings stood on either side of the clearing. They were clad in some type of armor that seemed to suck light into it. Nothing of their faces could be seen except for glowing red eyes that stared out at them from beneath their helms. They moved as one towards the five intruders.
Before engaging in battle, Wolverine spared a glance at the other figures. He could see Amanda laying crumpled a few feet from the edge of the cliff, possibly dead. In the center of the clearing, facing the cliff, stood a tall, thin man. His arms were raised in offering and his voice rose shrilly in an unfamiliar language. Blue and yellow light surrounded him. Nightcrawler was crouched on one knee in front of the mage, also surrounded by the globe of light. A flash of red laced from the man's hands and hit Nightcrawler squarely in the chest. Face contorting, Kurt screamed as the light touched him and raced across his body like electricity, the howl echoing in the air.
Wolverine barked some orders before joining the fray, "Kitty, grab Amanda. Doc, you better help the elf."
Colossus turned his flesh into steel as the one of the creatures closed in on him. Storm attempted to distract the mage by calling on her innate control of the weather and firing lightning bolts. The mage ignored the bolts, turning them aside easily. Kitty skirted the mage, wincing as Kurt screamed again, and made it to Amanda's side. The teen breathed a sigh of relief to discover the woman stilled lived. She hurriedly checked for any major injuries and only found a large lump on the side of her head. With a brief prayer of thanks, Kitty slung the woman over her shoulder and carried her to the safety of the trees. She placed Amanda down on the ground and anxiously watched the rest of the battle.
Dr. Strange entered the clearing and studied the spell the mage was using. He swore, "The fool! Does he think he can control a major demon?" Strange recognized the spell as a soul transference, Kurt's soul would be swapped for the demon's. He couldn't stop the process, the spell had already progressed too far, but he could keep Kurt's soul from being sent to the other plane. He called upon the powers of his amulet and quickly threw a shielding spell on Kurt. As it settled, the mage finished his spell. As Diask took over Kurt's body, a flash of light blinded everyone momentarily. A roar of triumph echoed through the clearing. As the glow disappeared, the mage gave a gloating smile before the demon turned and ripped out his throat. No one noticed as the mage went down. Dr. Strange was dodging the grappling forms of Wolverine and one of the faceless warriors, Colossus and Storm were combining their strength against the second warrior, and Kitty had hunched over Amanda to shield the woman from harm.
Colossus landed a devastating punch on his opponent, literally punching a hole in the armor. The creature screeched, there was a puff of smoke and brimstone, and the armor crumbled to the ground, empty.
The remaining creature turned suddenly and slammed Dr. Strange into a tree, knocking him out, before returning its attention to Wolverine. Wolverine raked at the creature with his claws, but, amazingly, did no visible damage. The creature landed a blow on Wolverine, staggering him. "Nightcrawler" jumped on the back of the creature, wrapped his arms around the creature's neck, and jerked it to one side, snapping it. He rode the empty armor pieces to the ground.
Wolverine strode forward in order to talk to Kurt. He stopped when Nightcrawler crouched in an attack position and growled deeply in his throat. "Relax, elf. It's us" He was distracted when Storm landed and dismissed the cloud cover that had provided the lightning. Kitty screamed a warning as Nightcrawler leaped out at Wolverine. Startled, Logan reached out and flipped Nightcrawler over his head. He felt blood running down his neck and realized he almost had his throat torn out. "What the devil is your problem, Nightcrawler? It's us, your friends."
Nightcrawler twisted in air and landed on his feet beside the fallen Dr. Strange. "Friends?" He laughed. In midlaugh, his voice changed from his usual warm tones to a harsh gravely voice, totally devoid of warmth. "Friends?"
"Comrade? What is the matter?" Colossus stepped forward hesitantly, brow wrinkled in confusion as he tried to make out his friend's expression in the dark.
At that moment, the last of the cloud cover disappeared and moonlight flooded the area and the X-Men discovered that something horrible had happened. Kurt's hands and feet now sported long, wicked looking talons, his eyes had changed from a warm yellow to a fiery red, and "something" rustled across his back.
"You're not Kurt," cried Kitty. "What have you done to him?"
Wolverine growled, his claws flashing, "If you've hurt him..."
"I am Diask, Lord of the Netherlands. And if you want your friend so much, you can all join him." Diask turned suddenly to the man at his feet, his claws ready to deliver the killing blow. A bolt of lightning landed between them, causing Diask to jump back. Looking up, he noticed that Storm had once again taken to the air in order to prevent Dr. Strange's death. A calculating look came into Diask's eyes. He gathered himself up and leaped at Storm, a pair of batlike wings fanning out. He flew at the woman. Startled, Storm was unable to defend her self as the demon rammed into her, stunning her. She fell, and the earth rushed to meet her. Colossus ran and caught her before she hit.
Diask swooped from the sky towards them, drawing his talons across Wolverine's chest. At the same time, Wolverine lashed out as well, catching the demon in the arm. Flesh parted, but no blood welled or flowed. Diask laughed as the others stared in horror. The creature beat his powerful wings to gain some altitude and dived again. This time it grabbed Wolverine's arm and lifted him off the ground, then threw him towards the cliff. Wolverine twisted wildly in the air, landing hard at the edge of the cliff. He dug his claws deep into the earth to keep himself from slipping over.
Diask came at Kitty this time, diving feet first at her. Reflexively, she phased while trying to dodge out of the way. Kitty screamed in pain and shock as the demon countered her phasing powers and sliced at her arm leaving three shallow scratches behind as she jerked her arm away. In a panic, the girl turned to run, but tripped over an exposed tree root and fell to the ground. Diask chuckled evilly as he turned in midair to make his final attack on the child. Kitty cowered on the ground, covered her head, and closed her eyes, so she didn't see what happened next. Diask came to a sudden, jarring stop a few feet away from Kitty. As "something" sprung at him in a silver blur from behind the terrified teen.
Pain. Excruciating, soul searing pain. It overwhelmed him, battered at him in waves until all he could do was throw his head back and scream. He did not know who was doing this to him. He couldn't remember how he got here or even who he was. His entire existence had been limited to trying to ride out the pain, keeping sane, and getting out!
He braced himself as another wave of pain lanced him, electrifying each nerve almost to the snapping point. In horror, he felt himself being pulled away. He struggled to remain "here", even the pain was preferable to where he sensed he was being taken. "Nooo!" the scream tore its way out of his throat as he was ripped from his proper place. A black pit opened before him and, despite his struggles, he was drawn closer to it. Within, unholy and unwholesome things lurked. A being, black as pitch, hurtled past him back to the place of light and pain he had just left. It laughed at him, mockingly. He closed his eyes and prayed for deliverance as the pit yawned wide to swallow him whole. "Dear Lord, protect me." As if in answer to his prayer, his direction shifted suddenly, the oppressive chill he felt emanating from the pit fading away.
He felt himself come to a stop. Cautiously, he opened his eyes to an amazing sight. He was standing in a clearing which overlooked a valley. Ten figures crowded the area, all apparently motionless. Looking closer, he noticed that they weren't frozen, but seemed to be moving in slow motion, like they were underwater. He stared about in confusion, not recognizing anyone. "What is going on?" His eyes came to a stop at a tall individual whose cruel eyes glinted madly. He remembered those eyes. ~"Grab the furred one. Our master will be pleased."~
~"Soon, your soul will be gone and only Diask will remain."~
His eyes focused on the figure crouched before the mad man. The creature was blue with searing red eyes. 'Not red,' he thought, 'yellow.' Talons sprouted from the three-fingered hands and two-toed feet. 'That's not right.' He didn't know why this wasn't right, he just knew it wasn't.
He shook his head and rubbed his forehead. He blinked and rubbed again only to find smooth skin. He lowered his hands and found five fingers and healthy "normal" skin. A long accustomed weight behind him was missing. His tongue felt only smoothly polished teeth and his fingers encountered rounded ears. The more he took in of himself, the more unnerved he became, though he wasn't sure why. He was about to turn away in a panic when someone stepped out from behind the trees.
It was a young woman of about eighteen or nineteen, her face thin and serious. Green eyes stared frankly at him, a hint of joy and amusement lurked alongside the worry and concern. Brownish blonde hair fell past her waist, caught up with a blue ribbon. She smiled and walked up to him. "Hello, Kurt."
He felt that he should know this woman. He cocked his head, staring at her, then it came to him - she had helped him before. Her name was... "Hello, Constance."
She shook her head and tisked, "It's still not your time, Mr. Wagner."
"I know." He glanced at his hand, "Why...?"
Constance was silent for a moment, as if trying to remember something. "Because no matter what you look like on the outside, you're still human. So, when at the point of death, you perceive yourself as you really are."
"So this is what I would have looked like if I had not been born a mutant?"
She nodded, "More or less. If nothing else had happened to you, like a car accident, then, yes."
Kurt nodded, then narrowed dark brown eyes. "This didn't happen the last time."
"That's because last time you still had a very close tie to what and who you were. You weren't so close to the point of death as you are now."
Constance sighed and waved a hand at the clearing. "You're soul was removed from your body so that another's could take it's place. Technically, you are dead, though your body still lives. What do you remember?"
"Wha...?" Kurt's head reeled from the shock. He was dead?
Constance laid a hand on his arm, comforting him. "Sorry. Still not too good at this. You aren't really dead, just very close to it. If not for your friends quick arrival, you would be. What do you remember about tonight?"
Kurt took a deep breath, calming down. "The others had left for the evening. Amanda and I had settled down to watch a movie. I heard a noise upstairs and went to investigate." He stopped, frowning, "The door to my room exploded outward, knocking me through the bannister and down the stairs. I think I broke a few ribs. Two creatures attacked us," he shuddered at the memory. "One hit Amanda and I just went ballistic, throwing anything I could lay my hands on at them. One grabbed me and threw me against the wall. I hit my head and passed out. Don't remember much more, except for the sorcerer who had captured us saying something about souls and someone named Diask. That, and unbelievable pain." As he recited, Kurt's skin changed from "normal" coloring to blue fur. His features reverted to normal and his tail returned. Kurt was immediately relieved to be "himself" again, but look up at Constance questioningly.
"You're remembering yourself, so you "look" what feels natural to you. Don't worry, I don't exactly understand it all, myself. But the speed with which you returned to "yourself" means that a way can be found to..." Her voice trailed off as a hissing noise came from the clearing. Time seemed to speed up and noises from the battle could be dimly heard. They watched as Diask turned and ripped out the throat of his mage. Constance and Kurt shuddered in horror.
The sorcerer's spirit appeared to them, looking confused and angry. "It wasn't supposed to be like this. I was supposed to become all-powerful. Do you hear me? All powerful!" From under the trees, the shadows twitched and writhed. A couple detached themselves and came sliding over, questing, hungry. As they came near, Constance stood between them and Kurt, shaking her head. The shadows seemed to consider that, bowed, and converged on the mage, engulfing him. They dragged him out of the clearing, kicking and screaming. "No! No! This wasn't to be! Nooo!"
Kurt blinked in shock. "What was that?"
"Evil spirits. They came to claim one of their own," she spoke absently, concerned. "We don't have much time." She turned to him and stared deeply into his eyes. "Only you can defeat Diask. He is old and powerful, but overconfident. He believes that you have been taken care of. Your arrival will be a shock to him, use it to your advantage." She paused, placed a hand over his heart. "Your faith is your strength and salvation, Kurt Wagner. Stay strong and call if you need help." She kissed his cheek and faded back into the undergrowth before he could do or say anything.
Kurt focused his attention on the battle, watched as Diask revealed himself and took to the air. How could he stop such a creature? He watched helplessly as first Storm and then Wolverine were defeated, but when Kitty was injured in her incorporeal state, her cry of pain galvanized him. "Lord, help me defeat this monster and save my friends." Feeling rejuvenated, he leaped at the demon as it swooped down upon Kitty once more. He knocked the demon off balance and it landed on its back, infuriated. Kurt jumped forward again as Diask stood and threw the demon back a few feet, disorienting the beast.
Wolverine, Kitty, Storm, and Colossus stared in shock as Diask appeared to be battling no one! The demon moved about the clearing, warding off invisible blows. Was this some sort of trick to lure them into a deadly trap? They exchanged astonished glances and stood ready for anything.
Dr. Strange came to his senses and took in the situation. Kitty, nursing her sore arm, tried to fill him in on what had happened. Dr. Strange wobbled to his feet and spoke a spell that would reveal all. Under the indifferent eye of the moon, the X-Men could see Diask as he truly was. The demon had a scaly hide that looked slicked with oil. Large wings and claws glinted in the light. The creature had no tail, but a ridge of spikes ran the length of its spine. Nightcrawler's image covered the demon like a thin, holographic overlay.
Diask stood between the X-Men and whatever the thing was it was fighting. They caught quick glimpses of a softly shining figure that was crouched low to the ground. As the demon moved to circle its attacker, they could see that the figure was Kurt! Gasps of surprise rang out.
Diask swung at Kurt with a taloned hand, Kurt deftly dodged. "Impossible! You were sent into the abyss. Damn Lost!" Kurt remained quiet, warily circling the demon, focusing on possible vulnerabilities, and ignoring everything else. Diask tried to get a reaction from him. "Before I'm finished with you, you will beg me for my mercy. Then, I'll destroy your friends as well." Kurt just studied him with narrowed eyes. "I'll rip them from limb to limb unless you swear allegiance to me." Still Kurt said nothing. "How long do you think you can last like that, mortal?" Kurt only came to a halt between Diask and his friends, down in a fighter's crouch. Infuriated, Diask again lashed out and screamed, "Damn you, say something!"
Kurt seemed to listen to something and an odd smile came to his lips. The X-Men started in surprise as Kurt, nodded and abandoned his attack posture. He stood tall before the demon and stretched an arm forward towards it. They could hear his voice echo through the clearing, the command clear. "In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave that body!"
Diask screamed, "Noo! You can't do this!"
"In the name of Jesus Christ I bind and cast you out! May His angels help me! Diask, leave that body."
Diask struggled to maintain control, but with a searing scream, the demon exited the body, which promptly collapsed onto the ground. "You think you've won? I may not have control of your body, but neither do you." He pointed to Kurt's corporeal self, blood began to well up in the wound that Wolverine had inflicted upon it earlier and a dark stain quickly spread. "In minutes, it will die and you will trapped here." Diask lunged at Kurt, driving him away from the body.
Wolverine jumped forward, claws extended. He slashed at Diask and stumbled when his blow went through the demon. Wolverine fell through the demon and landed near Kurt's feet. Kurt smiled, "Thank you, mein freund. But this is one fight I must win on my own." He ducked one punch but was caught in the solar plexus by the other. As he gasped for breath, Diask grabbed him by the throat and lifted him into the air. "I will crush you like the insignificant bug you are!" The demon began squeezing as everyone watched on helplessly.
Storm turned to Dr. Strange. "Can you do anything to help?"
Dr. Strange had an odd look on his face, as if he was listening to something no one else could here. He shook his head, then nodded, "Yes, grab Kurt's body. We need to stop that bleeding and put it in a stasis spell."
Kitty drifted closer, bit her lip, "What will that do?"
"It will keep the body alive long enough for Kurt to return to it. Hurry."
Storm and Colossus pulled the body into the shelter of the tree-line and laid it beside Amanda. Strange cast the spell while Wolverine watched the fight, enraged that he couldn't help the elf.
Diask shook Kurt, "I will crush your spirit, then I will destroy your friends."
Kurt grinned, "I... think... not!" He disappeared in a flash of smoke and brimstone leaving a shocked Diask holding onto nothing but air. Diask screamed, "Lost! You idiot. May you rot in hell!"
Dr. Strange was shocked as well, he had no idea that a person's mutant abilities could cross over to the other side, he'd have to study that particular phenomenon more closely if they ever survived this encounter.
Kurt reappeared a few feet above Diask and landed hard on the demon's back, driving it into the ground. Diask flipped Kurt aside and took to the air for an advantage. He swooped over the heads of the X-Men, his eyes fastened on the inert form of Amanda. Diask reached her before Kurt could and slashed his claws through her. A growl of frustration relieved Kurt; Diask couldn't harm his friends in this state. Diask's eyes narrowed and he launched himself at Kurt. Kurt hissed in pain as the talons sliced through his skin. The two battled back and forth, ending up in the midst of the X-Men who did what they could to stay out of the way. Amanda had regained consciousness in the meanwhile and Ororo was busy trying to calm the young woman and get her to a safer place. Amanda demanded to stay, she had to stay with Kurt; unwilling to leave herself, Storm agreed.
Diask swung around and one of his wings slammed into Kitty, who wobbled on her feet, before it passed through. Diask immediately turned on Kitty, intent on killing her. Kitty shrunk back in horror, unable to run. Kurt teleported around Diask, grabbed Kitty, and, with a tremendous effort, teleported her out of harms way.
They landed in a tree on the other side of the clearing. "Kurt, how...?" Kitty's face was pale, her eyes wide with fear.
"I don't know. Stay here and stay quiet, all right Liebchen?" he looked exhausted. The teleport had taken a lot out of him.
He flashed her a grin, took at good look around for Diask's location, and teleported back into the fray. Diask was again in the air circling the clearing, searching for Kurt or Kitty. Again, Kurt appeared above the demon, slamming him into the ground. Diask tossed Kurt a few feet away where he landed hard on one shoulder. Struggling to his knees, Kurt sent out a heartfelt prayer "Lord, if I have to die, so be it, but please help me send this demon back to hell so he will never harm anyone else."
Diask strode over and kicked Kurt viciously in the ribs. Amanda, Storm, and Kitty cried out simultaneously in anger. Kurt gasped for air, falling on his side. He curled up in a defensive position, too stunned to do anything else as Diask rained kick after kick upon him. Unable to stand it anymore, Colossus picked up a large rock and threw it at the offending spirit. Diask only laughed as the rock passed through him, "Fools. You can't harm me. You..." his voice choked off for Kurt had snaked out a hand, grabbed the demon's ankle and yanked hard, toppling the creature.
"Good one, elf," Wolverine grinned ferally.
Kurt slowly rose to his feet, a smile forming on his face. "Thank you, mein freund. I appreciated the diversion."
"Anytime, comrade," Colossus replied.
Diask twisted his body and flipped to his feet. "I am tired of these games." He made a gesture and a sword appeared in his hand. "Now, I shall destroy you."
The blade was made of solid darkness, the very darkness found within the demon's own twisted soul. The air shimmered with a red tint in the wake of the blade as Diask swung it a few times. The temperature in the clearing dropped and the X-Men could hear a low, uncomfortable buzz emanate from the blade. Amanda and Dr. Strange sucked in a breath of recognition. Kitty shuddered and whispered, "Dear God. He has a soulsword."
For a moment, Kurt could only stare in horror as Diask advanced upon him, the sword raised high in anticipation of the death blow. "Angels and ministers of Grace, defend me." The black sword rushed down and slammed into the ground where Kurt had stood. Kurt rolled away in a controlled tumble that brought him to his knees a couple of yards away, his back to the demon.
Dr. Strange started to cast a spell, but stopped, blinked a few times, nodded reluctantly, and lowered his arms. Amanda watched, sure she saw someone whisper in Strange's ear, but shook it off as a hallucination due to the head wound. The X-Men watched as Kurt bowed his head in apparent exhaustion as Diask chuckled deep in his throat and strode forward, sword swung loosely in one hand. Only Kitty, perched in a nearby tree, heard Kurt's low prayer. "Lord, please have mercy on my soul. Help me send this demon back to the abyss." As the black sword fell upon him, Kurt turned quickly and blocked the swing with a crash of metal upon metal. He pushed upwards and back, throwing Diask off-balance.
Everyone stared in amazement. Kurt rose to his feet and held a blazing soulsword in front of him. A humming came from the blade and the air had a blue tint around it. Kurt twirled the blade a few times, becoming adjusted to the weight and balance of it, then pressed his advantage, attacking Diask with blow after blow. Diask soon found himself on the defensive, desperately trying to keep the glowing blade away from him.
They crossed swords, parried, feinted, and dodged each other for a few moments. Kurt twisted about and scored the demon's chest. Diask leaped back and tripped over the body of the unfortunate mage. Diask fell heavily, sprawled out on his back. His sword fell from his hand and disappeared in an oily burst of smoke. Kurt came forward, soulsword readied. Diask began pleading with him, "No. Don't send me back. I can give you riches, power, anything you want." Kurt made no answer, just raised the blade higher. Diask scrambled backwards, fear, hatred, and a grudging respect warring in his eyes. "Don't you understand? I can give you everything."
Kurt quickly glanced at his friends, exchanged a loving grin with Amanda, and then at the approving smile of Constance. "I already have everything." He brought the sword down, severing the demon's neck.
"Nooooo!" the scream echoed, then thinned and disappeared as the body dissolved into smoke and brimstone.
Kurt limped over to his own body, exhaustion dragging at him. He just wanted to sleep, he was so tired. A small grin lit his face as he heard Constance's voice in his ear. "You did good, kid. It's time to rest now."
He knelt by his body, the soulsword planted in the earth between the two. It began to glow brighter and brighter, until everyone had to look away. When the glow disappeared, the sword and Kurt's spirit were gone. Amanda rushed over to the body, cradling the head in her arms. "Kurt? Can you hear me?"
For a moment, there was no answer, then Kurt turned his head, opened his eyes, and smiled at his friends who now surrounded him. "Hi," he said softly, looking deeply into Amanda's blue eyes.
Amanda smiled brightly at him, tears filling her eyes. "Hi yourself."
"Can we go home?"
Amanda looked up, exchanged relieved looks with the others, then turned her attention back to the man in her arms. "Yes, love, we can go home."
As it turned out, Kurt had broken three ribs when he was tossed over the railing and had a slight concussion from the blow to the head. His arm had been cleaned and bandaged, and everything was healing nicely. None of the wounds he had received while in spirit form had been transferred to his physical body, for which he was truly thankful for.
Amanda recovered quickly from her own concussion, but could not remember anything that had occurred before Kurt had awakened. No one could explain it, but felt perhaps it was for the best.
The slashes on Kitty's arm healed up without so much as a scar and the young woman tried to put the experience behind her and move on with her life.
As the weeks went on, the events that had occurred grew more and more indistinct within their minds, until they were left with only a vague memory that something bad happening that they had successfully dealt with.
Dr. Strange, however, remembered everything quite well and was perplexed as to why everyone else who was involved had forgotten. He was determined to find out why.
Two months later, Dr. Strange went out to the clearing. He called upon the powers of his amulet to reveal to him that which had been hidden during the encounter. In his inner eye, he saw a multitude of figures that had been hiding just inside the tree line, carefully watching the battle. "I wish to speak with the one who communicated with me during that battle."
The clearing went still, not a sound broke the silence. A moment passed, then another, before a young girl with brownish blonde hair appeared. "Stephan, why have you called me."
Dr. Strange cocked his head, "How did you know my first name?"
"It doesn't matter. Answer my question. Why did you call me?"
"I want to know why you prevented me from getting rid of the demon. I had the opportunity and the means of doing so."
The girl sighed, "I told you. It was Kurt Wagner's responsibility."
"Why? He hadn't summoned it. It wasn't his fault that the creature was here. Why have him deal with it when there were others better capable of handling it?"
"It's not my place to question why it had to be that way, nor is it yours. Suffice to say, it was a test, one that Kurt Wagner passed with flying colors."
"Under whose authority is it to test one not gifted in the occult in such a manner?"
The girl's green eyes flashed fire, and Dr. Strange felt he had pushed too far. "His."
Dr. Strange blanched, "His?"
He bowed low, "I had no idea it was that high, I had assumed wrongly."
She stared at him for a moment, then grinned, "Oh, cut it out. It's done. The others won't remember a thing." She sobered quickly, "The only reason you remember is because Diask was not destroyed, only banished back to the Netherlands for a thousand years. You may come into contact with him again, or they might, and you will have to know who you are dealing with."
"If they are to come into contact with Diask again, shouldn't they retain their memories too?"
"I only said they might, not that they will. Nothing has been decided on that matter yet. If they do meet up with him, they will remember, but you will have to be with them in order to help them understand why they had forgotten. Understand?"
"Good. I must be going. Goodbye, Stephan." She started to fade away, "And try to stay out of trouble."
Dr. Strange stared at the place where the girl had been, shook his head, and left the clearing.
May 11, 1997