Disclaimer: Cyclops and Apocalypse are
owned by Marvel,
I knew, when I threw myself between Apocalypse and Nate, that it would be the last thing I ever did.
Imagine my surprise when I woke up.
God, I hurt. Every inch of my body, inside and out, hurt as if I'd been ripped to pieces and put together by a blind man with a blunt needle. There was a spike of burning fire in my brain, aches in every bone like the worst flu, and throbs in my muscles as if I'd been beaten within an inch of my life.
I concentrated on breathing through what felt like acid-seared lungs and took stock of my situation as much as I could, without moving. It was cold where I was. I was lying on my belly, cheek on a stone or concrete floor beneath me, radiating chill into my skin. I moved one leg, slightly, to see if I was bound, gritting my teeth against the flare of pain.
No, not bound. But naked. Someone had taken my uniform.
Not an action of friendlies.
The voice was so loud it made the floor tremble, sending fire down my raw and exposed nerves. "YOU LIVE?"
I forced my head up, disregarding the lightning in my brain, the draining weakness in my neck, and the nausea clawing at my gut. The monster was still here.
I had to know.
Apocalypse. But it was not the Apocalypse I was used to seeing, the blue, armored one.
He was seated on his vast throne, several steps above me, and he was dressed as a pharaoh: golden chest plate, jeweled headpiece crowning long black hair, linen singlet shining palely against deep olive skin. He looked down at me, kohl-lined black eyes impenetrable, as one would a beetle discovered in a plate of figs.
I refused to crawl on my belly to this bastard. Not now, not ever.
I made it up to my knees, trembling, but the room whirled and I knew even if I managed to get to my feet, I would promptly fall on my face.
"Yeah, you son of a bitch," my voice was hoarse, gravelly, "I'm alive."
Apocalypse stood and descended from the throne. I wanted so much to fight him -- just to poke my fingers in his eyes would be enough -- but my efforts to sit up had taken the last of my strength.
He put a hand on my throat and lifted me up without effort, so my feet dangled off the floor and my hands clawed futilely at his.
"You are nothing," Apocalypse declared finally. "A worm. You have no strength, you cannot fight me. This is my place now."
He turned, showing me the chamber -- in his temple in Akkaba, I guessed.
The columns and walls of the immense rectangular hall shone with hieroglyphs and drawings of triumph after triumph of En Sabah Nur. Death and destruction. The dark jackal's head of Anubis, judge of the Egyptian underworld, was carved into the capital of every column.
"Remade in my image," Apocalypse held forth, as spots flared behind my eyes. "This is the glory to come, Summers. Soon all the world and beyond will tremble to the sound of my name and at last, the weak will be culled from the strong."
I managed to pull his hand loose enough, or he let me, to whisper, "... fight ... you ..."
Unexpectedly, he started to laugh and he let me go. I plummeted to the floor, knees striking with a jolt, and the world grayed out momentarily.
When I clawed my way back, he was still laughing. "Defeated. A shadow of a shadow. But still you wish to fight."
His look this time at me was more proud, as if a favorite dog learned a new trick. "You are not the vessel I would have chosen, but you are of the strong." He nodded once, approvingly. "But I cannot have your interference in my ascension. Be proud, Summers, we will be a god."
Vertigo seized me, the room whirled, growing dark, and I could do nothing besides hold onto that little bit of myself and keep it from splintering into nothingness.
When next I found awareness, I felt clammy air like a blanket, pressing me down. Darkness surrounded me, with a shaft of light coming down from high above, enough to show high, round walls of stone. I couldn't say whether this was standard accommodation in an Egyptian palace, but it was certainly common in European castles, where it's called an oubliette. Prisoners were put down holes and left to die.
This was bad.
I could barely move. Could barely think. Climbing the wall to reach the opening was impossible.
Lying in filthy water at the bottom of a pit, while an evil immortal tried to take over the world...
There had to be something I could do. Something. Anything.
Instead, I tried to remember what had happened between my hasty decision to get between Apocalypse and Nate, and waking up in the throne room of Apocalypse. How did I get there? Where were the rest of the Twelve? Were they prisoners too? Were they dead?
I couldn't remember, and trying made sparks fly behind my eyes, threatening to burn out my brain. I sought comfort in an easier memory.
Jean...I closed my eyes, trying to concentrate past the pain. I couldn't feel the link at all. Not the emptiness I felt on the rare occasions the link broke or was interrupted by something, I didn't feel the lack of it -- I simply couldn't find it at all.
But I knew it was there. I knew she was there somewhere. I would know if she were dead. We were interconnected, the two of us, bound so deeply on so many levels, there was no possibility that I wouldn't know if something happened to her.
She wasn't there.
In futile rage, I slammed a fist into the stone wall of my cell. The stone cracked and flaked, like a thin layer of plaster, and my hand went right through. For an instant I stared at the opening I made -- a hole streaming with light, promising freedom.
I beat at the wall, reinvigorated by the possibility of escape, and the "stone" wall crumbled like a painted theater set.
I stumbled through the jagged hole and on the other side I stopped, still and staring. Mind whirling.
I stood in the front hall of the mansion. Not the mansion I had left only a few days ago to confront Apocalypse -- the mansion as it had been the day I arrived, a sullen, lonely boy rescued from depredation and pain and brought into this world of wealth and privilege.
It hadn't existed in a decade.
It didn't exist now.
My hand trembled as I reached for the wooden banister. I felt the knob under my fingers, solid and smooth. It felt real.
Struck by a sudden impulse, I turned back the way I came, and saw nothing out of place. The front door-- not the hole in reality I hoped for. Not the shredded air that would prove that I was really, somehow, here.
I tried to tell myself that time travel or dimensional slippage or something was entirely possible. I had been to alternate universes. I had been to the past and the future.
But panic sealed itself in my heart and I flung open the door of the mansion, racing around the corner of the building, heading for my house.
Everything was as it should be, perfect as reality wouldn't be.
The lake was a flat, reflective mirror. Not a bird's cry broke the silence, not a breeze broke the stillness. The boathouse, where Jean and I had spent our lives together after our wedding, was a small, two story structure, with the master bedroom upstairs and the other rooms below.
I yanked open the french doors from the deck that should lead to the living room.
Dim, orange light from torches lit a high stone corridor that stretched out ahead of me into infinity. The paintings on the wall showed En Sabah Nur dressed as the sun god Ra, with all the pharaohs kneeling at his feet.
A pale white thing on the floor caught my eye and I bent down, scarcely able to believe it. Our wedding album. Ornate white leather stamped in gold felt the same under my fingers as I lifted it into my hands reverently.
But instead of the first photo of us in wedding attire, all I saw were hieroglyphs. Every page, as I frantically tried to find just one photo, any photo, but every single page was covered with Egyptian writing. I hurled the book away from me.
Understanding crashed in on me, and I fell to the floor, holding my head in my hands.
No, be precise, Summers. Holding my astral form's head. None of this was real. This was all in my mind. This was the astral plane, or at least some personal version of it. It was not the waking, living world.
I suddenly felt cold, even at the same time I recognized the feeling for the phantom it was, as Apocalypse's words took on new meaning -- Remade in my image.
He was here with me, in my own mind, and he was taking it over.
And me? All that was left was this weak, trembling remnant. I couldn't fight him. I was a worm, not worthy of being crushed. I wasn't even supposed to be alive. Apocalypse had been quite surprised to know I still existed.
He had believed his conquest and possession was absolute.
It just proved he wasn't the god he pretended to be. He was not omniscient, and not infallible. I had defeated him before, and I could do it again.
In the battlefield of the mind, I had an advantage-- this was my head. Unlike Apocalypse, I've had years of practice of sharing my mind with another person, a person who happened to be one of the foremost telepaths on the planet. I knew techniques from her for separating entangled psyches and telepathic combat that I had never thought I would need to use, but had absorbed from her anyway.
It was a slim advantage, and I didn't fool myself about the strength of my enemy. Apocalypse had my mind, my body, and his own power. He was formidable.
But he was making a big mistake if he believed I was helpless.
And I would be making a bigger mistake to believe him.
"I will not make myself in your image, Apocalypse," I promised, and my pain washed away like the phantom it was. Naked and weak was Apocalypse's image of me, not my own.
I clothed myself in my uniform with just a thought. I felt my fists in my gloves because I wanted to feel them.
I picked up the album again, and this time, when I looked at the first page I saw the picture I should. Our first kiss as husband and wife. The moment that all the pain of the years before was rewarded by sheer joy.
"Please wait for me, love," I whispered and carefully closed the album and cradled it to my chest.
I turned to go back to the mansion, to find more corridor stretching before me. The mansion was gone and I doubted I would find it again. It was a memory Apocalypse had remade in his image -- but not entirely destroyed.
I was still here. I still remembered. As long as I remembered, I could rebuild what was gone.R esolutely I refused to think of the outside world. Of what atrocities Apocalypse could be committing wearing my face, using my body. Of what my family and friends would think had happened to me.
The outside world would have to tend to itself for awhile. I had my own battle to fight and win.
I picked a direction and started walking. Shortly I found a niche, where a sandstone statue stood, of a seated Egyptian woman, with an infant boy on her lap.
The goddess Isis, holding her son Horus. I smiled to see it, reminded of Jean and Nathan.
This statue was not Apocalypse, not entirely. This was an image of hope, of rebirth, and love. This was me remaking Apocalypse, at least a little.
I bowed my head to the statue, still smiling. "Please," I murmured, "give me strength to kick his ass."
It was completely my imagination, but I could have sworn the gentle
goddess smiled at me.
Other Stories By Elizabeth