It should have been so easy to end this nightmare, so terribly effortless to kill a devil like Jason Wyngarde. A moment's concentration and a blood vessel would burst in his brain, his heart would cease to beat, his lungs would no longer draw air. A single deliberate thought and he would never be able to hurt her again.
Jean's reluctance to murder him was beginning to chill her more than the thought of the act itself; and she struggled to explain it away, wanting to believe that she didn't have it within her to end his life in cold-blood; not willing to openly admit that she was hesitating only because of a base desire to see him suffer first.
That need for vengeance was beginning to overshadow even her longing to do things right this time, an uncomfortable realization. Was she that weak, that bitter, that she would risk everything all over again?
Yesterday she would have said no. It wouldn't have mattered how appealing the prospect of seeing Jason brought low was - the possible consequences were too dire, the chance of endangering her sanity too likely. But if she were already losing her mind....
Beside her, in the dark, Scott stirred and looped an arm about her waist. "You're broadcasting," he mumbled into the pillows.
"I'm sorry, baby," she said, rapidly contructing a stronger wall around her thoughts, hoping he hadn't received anything coherent. "Go back to sleep."
He turned his head toward her instead. "I know you don't want to talk about it," he began, his hand squeezing her hip, "but if --"
"Something's wrong." She sat up abruptly, switching on the bedside lamp, her hand pressed to her forehead as she sifted through the signals she was receiving. "It's the kids. They're....gone."
Scott was already out of bed, pulling on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. "Where?"
"Not earth....somewhere...else. Danielle. She's hurt. It hurts. She's at the hospital. Charles thinks she's going to die."
He tossed her some clothes. "Let's go."
Today would have been Adam's eleventh birthday, had he lived; and as he dressed, Nathaniel wondered what the boy would have asked for. A bicycle, no doubt, so that he could finally ride with his friends. As she did every year, Rebecca would have said no, it was too dangerous, too strenuous, and they would have bought him a new model airplane, or puzzle, or some books. Something safe. His Nana would have given him a check and a sweater, which he would have dutifully worn when she came to visit. And Nathaniel would have snuck him an action figure when no one was looking.
Rebecca was taking a cake from the oven when he entered the kitchen for breakfast, its rich, chocolate smell making his stomach growl.
"I tried not to bake it," she told him tremulously, "but I had to."
"I understand." He poured himself a cup of coffee and touched her shoulder lightly, comfortingly. She flinched, but didn't pull away. "I'll look for candles," he said.
"I made chocolate frosting," she explained, cutting the cake loose from the pan and placing it on a rack to cool. "He would always ask for raspberry, and then change his mind the day before, so I just made the chocolate."
Nathaniel found the small, striped birthday candles and counted out eleven, placing them on the table in a neat row. "I think that's what Adam would have wanted."
"I think so too," she nodded, wrapping her robe more tightly around her body. "Have you heard anything else from Mr. Wisdom?"
"No." He got a plate out of the cupboard, slid the cake onto it and handed Rebecca the bowl of frosting and a spatula. "I've decided to go to America myself, when Mr. Wisdom has completed his task. While I'm gone, you can stay with your mother."
"What if you never come back?"
"I'll come back," he reassured her. "I won't leave you alone."
She finished frosting the cake and set it in the middle of the table, sticking the candles into the spongy confection. Nathaniel lit the wicks. "We should sing," she said, starting to cry. "But there's no one to blow out the candles."
"We have a situation," Charles announced tersely as he stood amidst the ruins of what had once been the Mid-County Medical Center ER. "Mirage was attacked on the mansion grounds by what seems to be the mystical demon bear she believes killed her parents. The other New Mutants and I accompanied her here, where we were also attacked. The bear teleported the children elsewhere, along with two civilians. Nightcrawler and Storm are attempting to locate Dr. Strange; and Danielle just came out of surgery. She'll live, but the doctors believe she'll be paralyzed. Jean....?"
"I'll try," she said. "Where is she?"
When his lover had gone, Scott turned back to Charles. "Why didn't you call us? We might have been able to prevent some of this."
"Jean isn't cleared for combat yet," Charles responded stiffly, "and you've made it very clear that this part of your life is over."
"That doesn't mean I won't help in an emergency."
"The New Mutants need to learn to work together and depend on each other. They cannot have the X-Men fight their battles for them every time things get difficult." He paused and looked around. "I'm not entirely sure how to approach the matter of the civilians. Even if the New Mutants manage to save them, there will be questions. They were seen fighting and using their powers. Perhaps it would be best to come up with an alternative scenario."
"You want to make those that witnessed it believe that it never happened?" Scott shook his head. "I can't be a part of that, Professor. Besides, the press has been informed by now. A cover-up would be futile. Were they patients?"
"No. A nurse and a police officer. If they are killed...."
"We'll deal with that when and if it happens," Scott said, becoming worried himself. This had the potential to undo all the good that could come of the Stryker trial. "For now, we wait."
Among her own people, Cal'syee Neramani had long been referred to as vanrythii, a succinct, all encompassing insult that rather pleased the deposed royal. The sainted Lilandra could have the simpering accolades of the masses; but Deathbird would have the throne.
The Imperial Flagship had been shamefully easy to infiltrate. Concealing herself within a crate of rare wines, Deathbird had been smuggled aboard by one of her operatives, and released by another into the cargo bay of the vessel where she had slit both his throat and that of the soldier guarding the area.. Now she ran silently through the deserted corridors, determined to make it to the Empress's chambers before she was spotted by security.
She was within sight of her destination when the siren wail cut through the air, and the guard positioned outside the door rushed her with his scimitar; with a cry of triumph she threw her javelin and caught him in the chest, his weapon clattering to the ground, the sounds of the fast approaching calvary ringing in her ears.
And then the door slid open of it's own accord and Lilandra stood before her, dressed in her nightclothes and wielding the royal sword. "Deathbird! Harthiv agythii gysnt!" she exclaimed, her eyes blue pools of fire. "You have shamed the House of Neramani for the last time, and I shall see you punished for your crimes."
Deathbird dropped her clasp of javelins and knelt, prostrate, at her sister's feet with mock reverence. "Forgive me, sister. I only wanted to give you this," she said, pressing her mouth to the bare foot that lay before her. Lilandra jerked away, but it was too late - the potion Deathbird had applied to her lips was already seeping into the skin.
There was a horrific swirling, dissolving sensation, and Deathbird found that she was looking down upon herself, the bent head trembling and retching from the switch, and then her own brown eyes looked up at her, bewildered.
"What have you done, Cal'syee?" Lilandra implored, struggling as the guards seized her. "Unhand me," she ordered, growing frantic when they did not. "I am your Empress! I demand that you release me! She has tricked you!"
"Place her in the brig," Deathbird commanded, lowering her blade. "Ensure that she cannot seek help in any way, including telepathically. She shall not escape justice this time."
Using her telepathy to ensure that she would not be seen by hospital personnel, Jean slipped into Dani's ICU room, being careful not to displace any of the tubes or wires that connected the girl to the life support systems. ~ Danielle, it's Phoenix. Can you hear me?~
As with most non-telepaths, the answer came as if from across a great distance, hollow and faint. ~Yes.~
~Are you speaking to anyone else right now?~ Jean asked, her brow furrowed. The body was unconscious, bandaged extensively, but the mind was almost too active, even for a psy. She reached down and pushed a strand of black hair off the sweat soaked forehead.
~Rahne. She needs Magik. She doesn't understand.~
~Magik herself can stop the bear?~
~Her sword~ Dani thought anxiously. ~It's the only way.~
Jean closed her eyes and saw the sword in Dani's mind, its silver blade glinting with a light almost sentient. ~Focus on the image of the sword~ she told her. ~Empty your mind of everything else and embrace it. If you are inseperable, she'll have to see its importance.~
There was a moment of stillness, thick and silent, and then a rush of relief. ~She sees.~
~Good. Now I need you to let go of Rahne's mind. Leave her be.~
~But they need me.~
~Danielle, let go or you'll be permanently paralyzed. There isn't time to argue.~ Jean felt the link waver and reached out without warning, pulling Mirage's psyche onto the astral plane and anchoring her there.
~Hey!~ Dani cried indignantly. ~What do you think you're...doing?~ She trailed off, struck by the eerily beautiful realm that surrounded them, enthralled by the way the quartz-like formations that dotted the landscape seemed to dissolve when she fixed her eyes upon them, sending coils of alabaster mist snaking about her legs. ~Is this the astral plane?~
~A part of it, yes.~ Jean stepped forward and took Dani's hands in her own, feeling the palpable apprehension hidden beneath her proud features. ~Do you meditate?~ she asked, easily sliding past the shields that confronted her.
~Yes~ Dani gasped, unused to the sudden intrusion into her mind, as delicate as it was. She could feel bold tendrils of thought questioning, seeking, finding. Her link with Rahne was sharing in nature, not searching, and the idea of someone sifting through the layers of her very being chilled her, even though that was essentially what she did when using her own powers.
Jean sensed her distrust and stiffened as well, the gradually increasing stream of consciousness that ran between them straining against the friction. ~Dani, don't fight me. Meditate. Breathe. I won't harm you.~
Slowly, the tension emanating from the Native American girl dissipated enough to allow Jean to continue; and she began the intricate process of infusing enough of herself into Dani to gain the awareness she needed to recognize each cell of a body not her own, to sense which nerves were broken and torn, to send out a gentle wash of power when she found them, to telekinetically make them whole again.
She was finishing up the last stitch when something seemed to quietly buckle within her, the meager but unexpected recoil severing the link.
Dani opened her eyes. "What happened?"
"I...I don't know." This couldn't be happening again, not now, not so soon. She felt like screaming. "How do you feel?"
"Hopeful." She wiggled her toes underneath the blankets. "Thank you."
"Yeah." Jean turned away, distracted. "I have to go. I'll send a doctor in."
"Okay," Dani agreed, puzzled. "Phoenix?"
"What?" she snapped.
"Are you all right?"
"No," she admitted. "I don't think I am."
"And this is where they disappeared," Scott finished, edging his way past the few police officers that still remained. They seemed not to see him - Charles' doing, no doubt. Their entire group was probably shielded. Next to him, Amanda crouched down and ran her fingers across the cold tile floor.
"It's jumping," she said, looking up at Kurt. "The amount of occult energy here is remarkable."
"Can you track them?" Ororo asked.
"Don't need to." She stood up again, her hands on her hips. "Look."
There was a low boom and the air in front of them crackled and split, leaving the New Mutants and four Native American adults, two of whom looked on the verge of hysteria. Charles addressed them calmly, his mind telepathically soothing their fears. "Officer Corsi? Nurse Friedlander? Please, come with me," he requested, and they followed him meekly.
"I'm going home," Illyana announced, creating a disc and stepping into it. "You're all *so* welcome," she added as she vanished.
"We didn't trust her," Sam explained, sheepish under Scott's questioning glare. "We thought she was attacking us when she was only trying to help."
"That will stop. Immediately," Ororo reprimanded harshly. "You do not have to like one another, but you will be civil, and you will learn to have faith in each other."
The African woman turned to the remaining adults. "And who might you be?"
The man stepped forward, visibly shaken by his sudden freedom. "William Moonstar. This is my wife, Peg. We're Danielle's parents."
Rough hands pushed her to the ground, held her down, shackled her wrists and ankles. She tried to resist, but the unfamiliar body was slow to respond; she tried to scream and choked on the gag Deathbird had insisted the guards put in her mouth; she reached out with her mind, desperate for Charles to hear her, to help her, to make this insanity stop, and found nothing but emptiness.
Having bound her, the soldiers stepped back and she could see the disgust they held for her. "Lemrre," one said sharply, spitting down on her, the glob of saliva hitting her in the face. The rest of them laughed, and she fought back tears, refusing to give them that satisfaction.
She was Lilandra.
She was Empress.
Nothing was going to take that away.
Other Stories By Sequoia