Morph loved to make a dramatic entrance.
It was childish of him,
perhaps--he'd be the first to admit that. But the pleased shock and surprise on his
teammates' faces tickled the mischievous side of his complex personality.
And the news he was carrying
today deserved something special!
Professor Xavier and Jean
were sure to sense him approaching--he'd never managed to mask his distinctive thought
patterns from them! He hoped they'd pick up on his excitement, too, and let
him spring this surprise in his own way. He'd worked hard enough for it!
At this hour, everyone should
just be sitting down to dinner--he'd save time by entering through the front doors,
instead of winding his way upstairs from the big hangar bay.
Thick grass rustled beneath
his mini-jet as he landed precisely in the center of the wide courtyard. Eyes gleaming, he
launched himself out of the cockpit and dropped to the ground. He hadn't even taken the
time to clean up on his return trip. Well, that would simply add weight to his fantastic
The large front doors were
unlocked--anyone capable of passing Xavier's sophisticated security systems without
challenge was welcome in the mansion.
But the dining room was
Morph hesitated in the
doorway, glancing around. Where was everyone?
Bewildered, he made his way
through the wide hallway on silent feet. Could something new have happened? He'd better
check in the War Room first, just in case.
The sudden, distinctive sound
of a muted explosion made his eyes widen. The Danger Room! Someone was hurt!
Human feet were too
slow...his teammates needed him now! And his long recuperation at Muir Island was
about to provide an unexpected bonus. He'd seen Xavier's one-time lover, Amelia Volt,
phase herself into mist and teleport through the walls often enough to duplicate the
trick. It wouldn't be the first time he'd assumed a woman's body...
Shift, realign, brown eyes
melding into green, long red hair pulled back in a gold-trimmed clip, phase into mist and go...
A crack in the baseboards was
all the space he needed. Red-hued with urgency, he flowed down into the floor and made his
way through myriad wires and tubing with startling speed. Three seconds, four, five...
Danger Room was directly in front of him!
Yet...voices were coming from
Xavier's Ready Room! He was sure he could hear Beast's distinctive timbre through
the sturdy walls!
Morph hesitated for the
barest fraction of an instant, uncertain. The crisp, clear tone of Xavier's voice decided
him. Whatever the danger, he must protect his beloved mentor!
A nearby vent beckoned. Morph
flowed through it and rapidly realigned his internal structure.
Eight pairs of eyes stared in
stunned disbelief as 'Amelia' abruptly materialized in the large room, then shifted back
into Morph's familiar form.
"Morph!" Jean was
the first to react. Grinning with delight, she waved toward the nearest empty chair.
"Come join us--we were just reviewing today's training tapes!"
Now he could see the vivid
holographic images covering the far wall.
There was no danger?
Relieved, Morph sagged down
beside her and managed a weak smile. Well, he'd gotten his dramatic entrance after all,
just not the way he'd originally planned!
"It appears," Beast
remarked with a wry grin, "that we should consider cleaning between the
floors as well as above them!" And he gestured at the smudges of dirt
staining Morph's worn uniform.
An amused grin curved the
younger mutant's lips. "Oh, I don't think you oughta waste your time on that,"
he countered in a deceptively meek voice.
Jean caught a trace of his
barely-concealed excitement, and straightened. "You found something, Morph?" she
urged, her slanting green eyes widening.
Morph lifted one thin
shoulder in a nonchalant shrug, then relented and let the eager sparkle brighten his own
eyes again. "I know where Sinister's hideout is!" he exclaimed.
Then he sobered. "And
he's definitely got the portal! If we're gonna stop him, we'd better move fast!"
Now he had
everyone's attention! How he wished Wolverine was here, to share in his moment of
Xavier raised his hands to
quell the instant clamor as everyone tried to question Morph at the same time. But the
talented young mutant didn't mind--he'd finally done something right for the team, and it
felt good! Relaxing, he avidly explained how he'd followed Banshee's hunch, and set up a
clandestine surveillance on Emma Frost's remote lair.
"I knew she'd be on the
alert, because everyone felt it when Kevin activated the portal!" he
confessed. "Even me, and I'm not a telepath! So I changed myself into a raven, and
perched in a nearby tree to keep an eye on things!"
Banshee's green eyes narrowed
in appreciation. "A raven, eh? Aye, ye're not one t' do things by half measures, are
ye, me lad?"
Nightcrawler raised a curious
eyebrow, puzzled by Banshee's cryptic approval. "I do not underztand, my
friend," he protested. "Vat iz zo zpecial about a raven?"
"According to ancient
Celtic mythology," Beast helpfully explained, "ravens were gifted with mystical
powers. They carried the spirits of departed humans, and communed with the gods
themselves. As they were believed to carry good luck, they were never harmed."
nodded. "An' fer all th' white witch's other faults, she grew up with th' old ways
an' still keeps 'em sacred. Ye couldn't've chosen better, Morph me boy, if ye'd
Morph glowed with pride. He
was finally in control of his own life again! Even Professor Xavier was radiating
"Well," he eagerly
continued, "it sure paid off! I got close enough to see when Sinister's thugs
suddenly appeared out of that temporal warp thing they carry around. They grabbed her
before she could even yell for help, and vanished again."
Cyclops leaned forward,
intrigued. "So how did you track them?" he challenged.
Morph spared the tall,
arrogant team leader a condescending grin. "They were too busy struggling with her to
notice me! So I flew by and dropped one of Beast's transparent trackers on her shoulder!
"And you wouldn't believe
where they're holed up this time!" He rolled his coffee-brown eyes in
exasperation. "Right in the heart of the African jungle! About as far away from
civilization as you can get without a roadmap!"
The frozen hologram on the
far wall vanished as Xavier telepathically linked with Cerebro and summoned up a large
multicolored satellite scan. "They must be shielding themselves somehow," he
murmured as the view changed several times, bisecting the huge continent with increasingly
higher resolution. "I cannot pick up any traces of mutant activity or the portal's
unique energy signature."
"But look!" Jean
exclaimed, pointing as thick forests became visible. "There's Beast's tracker, right
in the heart of the black jungle! Well done, Morph!"
The young mutant beamed with
pleasure...until he saw the anxious frown on his mentor's austere face. "What's the
matter, Professor?" he urged. "Did I do something wrong?"
Xavier quickly shook his
head. "No, Morph. You did an excellent job. But I am concerned about Emma
Frost's involvement in this scenario. Her presence indicates that Sinister has discovered
more about the portal than I would have preferred. If she focuses her energies through it,
our own objectives may be in grave jeopardy."
The assembled mutants stared
at him in growing horror. "You don't think she'd dare try to infiltrate Cerebro
again, do you?" Cyclops challenged. Beside him, Jean shivered as she recalled
being overwhelmed by the alien Phoenix entity. Frost's devious scheming had nearly
destroyed them all!
"If she is able to
access my accumulated research on the portal itself," Beast protested, "no force
on Earth will be able to stop them!"
Xavier's clear blue eyes
seemed haunted as he faced each one of them in turn. "Agreed. That is why
I am about to propose a very unusual solution..."
"Get your filthy hands off me!"
Emma Frost's enraged protest
only made Jorge chuckle. "Ah, don' ye worry none, gal," he advised, his crisp
Australian brogue deepening as he deliberately tightened his grip on her slender arm.
"We ain't gonna hurt you! Or git your purty white clothes all dirty--long as
ye don' fight us!"
grinned, leering down at her. "You've been downright rude, ignoring our nice polite
offer to come visit! Got a regular little housewarming party going--everyone's invited!
C'mon in and join us!"
Emma felt dwarfed as the two
huge mutants dragged her through the mouth of a dark, eerie cave. Dwarfed, and infuriated!
Their minds were easy enough to penetrate...she'd never have been caught like this if she
could have sensed them approaching! Trust them to sneak around with a temporal warp--that
was so characteristic of Sinister's double-crossing tactics!
How she would love to pierce
their shallow minds with pure, unadulterated pain, and see them writhing on the ground
like mindless animals! That would be fitting payment for having kidnaped her! But she
could sense the presence of many other mutants just inside--mutants who might not take
kindly to her assault, no matter how justified it might seem to her!
And Sinister was sure to take
offense...these two big oafs were his favored pets. Which just proved what
terrible judgement he had!
Darkness surrounded her as
she was pulled into the large, dank cavern. Sinister's blood-red eyes seemed to glow with
malevolent delight from the rustling shadows. Then Jorge shoved her forward, into the
lurid greenish glow lighting the far end over the cavern.
Too many...there were far too
many mutants here for her to control! For now, like it or not, she would have to play
along with their evil schemes.
Well, she thoughtfully
conceded, perhaps there might be something to gain from such an unholy alliance, after
Straightening, she threw off
her escorts' large hands and stepped forward. "You summoned me, Sinister?" she
demanded, her low voice cool with displeasure.
Sinister gazed down at Emma
Frost with undisguised malice. Let her play the affronted victim if she chose! She was no
match for his power or his cunning mind!
He allowed her another moment
to scan the cavern, noting how her eyes widened or narrowed with each new face she spied
through the dim shadows. None of her former teammates were present--he had seen to it that
she had no ready-made allies. All the better to weaken her, make her more vulnerable.
Yet he felt a moment's unease
when her cold eyes hesitated on Deadpool's distinctive black mask. And the ninja
assassin's head dipped ever-so-slightly in acknowledgment. Was she telepathically
contacting him, or did they share some murky past which he had been unable to discover?
He swept one gloved hand out
in an abrupt gesture that startled her back to awareness. Deadpool would bear careful
scrutiny. But for now, Sinister had little time to waste.
"Behold our deliverance
from this backwater planet!" he hissed, waving toward the darkened portal. "The
entire universe lies at our feet, ready to be taken! With your assistance, my beautiful
ice queen, together we shall rule as we choose, with plenty for all!"
Emma ignored his devious
compliment, and stared at the dormant hexagonal device in open suspicion. This
was the cause of so much furor? True, its intricate carvings did look fascinating. Yet
what unique capabilities made it so spectacular...and so coveted by so many powerful
Emboldened by Sinister's
inviting gesture, she took a cautious step closer. And narrowed her eyes in sudden
confusion. The faintest trace of a milky, opalescent glow seemed visible deep within the
portal's six uniform sides. Had her approach triggered some obscure mechanism, or had she
simply not noticed that slow, hypnotic swirling before now?
"What do you need from
me?" she demanded, tearing her eyes away from the mesmerizing shimmer with an effort.
It could not be calling to her, whispering to her innermost psyche with a muted
longing that tugged at her very heartstrings...
Sinister's fangs gleamed in
the dim light as he swept into an angry, mocking bow and glared at the alien device.
"Xavier holds the key," he snarled. "Only he knows the secret to
fully activate its power! You were able to infiltrate his defenses once before. Do so
again--wrest the information from his cowardly mind--and I will give you first pick of the
many worlds beyond the portal's door!"
Emma considered her dilemma
for one brief instant, and found the alternatives unpleasant.
Still, this overgrown vampire
had no concept of the difficulties involved! "I cannot simply present myself at
Xavier's gates and request access to his supercomputer!" she retorted, scowling up at
him. "The circumstances you speak of were unique! Jason Wyngarde and I telepathically
merged and infiltrated Xavier's defenses together, using the Inner Circle's
mega-computer as the power focus! No one but Xavier himself has the power to
penetrate Cerebro unaided!"
Sinister's spidery cape
billowed as he stiffened to his full height. Despite herself, Emma shuddered. She had seen
genetic mutations cause unspeakable horrors, but never before had she set eyes on any
creature so ugly, so malevolent, that the hair on her neck prickled in mute warning!
"Do you refuse me?"
Sinister rasped, his deep voice echoing through the large cavern. Behind them, Emma heard
the other mutants stirring as they watched the tense confrontation with avid enthusiasm.
None of them, with the
possible exception of Deadpool, owed her the slightest allegiance. If she refused
Sinister, they might well turn on her. Like it or not, she would have to comply with his
arrogant demands...for now.
"Of course not,
Sinister," she assured him, mustering a soothing smile. "I simply fear that I
may not be powerful enough to aid you!"
Her apparent complaisance
settled him again, and he smirked in satisfaction. "Your powers have increased since
you battled the Phoenix," he insisted. "Your psychic strength is second only to
Xavier himself! And the portal itself can be used as a power focus. I have been able to
trigger it into partial readiness--surely you can do no less!"
It was an order that she
dared not refuse. Sighing, Emma took another step toward the massive artifact. The eerie
glow seemed to intensify as she approached. "Very well. But it will take me some time
to penetrate Cerebro's defenses," she warned, lifting slender fingers to her pale
forehead. "If Xavier or his students should detect my efforts, they will..."
"We do not have
time!" Sinister snarled, clenching his fists. "I have waited too long for this
moment--I will not have it denied!"
monster, why couldn't he understand that this was a delicate operation?
Emma sighed again, and
concentrated harder. First she must establish a rapport with this bizarre alien device.
Adjusting her thought processes to the Inner Circle's massive computer-entity had not been
difficult--she had helped design its unique pathways by merging with its newly-formed
sentience over a decade ago.
Yet if the rumors about his
hexagonal device were accurate, it had existed long before humans had walked the face of
this planet! Despite its deep-seated, alluring siren-song, she had so little chance of
merging with it that she might as well resign herself to a painful death now...
Shaken, Emma staggered back
and stared in wondering disbelief at the shimmering portal.
Glowing, pulsating light was
all around her, penetrating the deepest corners of her expanding mind...
From somewhere in the
distance, she heard a hoarse voice whispering, "O' course! Takes a telepath
t' trigger the thing! No wonder..."
Then everything faded away
but the light--the glorious, dazzling beams of gold that enveloped her, warming her to the
core with exquisite beauty and energy...
And amid the silvery
starsongs that flooded her very soul, one compelling thought
remained: Sinister must not be allowed to misuse this miraculous gateway
to the universe!
He was already moving up
behind her, advancing on the device like a hungry spider stalking its prey. She must stall
Her low voice rang out with startling power as the last darkened recesses of her
mind were flooded with crystal-clear light. She was growing, expanding...glowing
with unimaginable power! "I must learn Xavier's secrets before the portal can
be fully controlled!"
Sinister hesitated for one
brief instant, then defiantly took another step forward. "There is no time!"
he argued, his face twisted into a hideous snarl. "We must go through now!"
Emma slowly turned to face
him, her eyes aglow with an eerie, unearthly light. "You will wait!"
she proclaimed in cold, measured tones.
Time...she needed more time!
With every passing moment, she was growing stronger, strong enough to bring that
malevolent nightmare to his black-clad knees! Stalling, she cast her mind outward,
searching for the familiar mental touch of Xavier and his sentient supercomputer...
They were gone!
Stunned, she reeled
Surely there must be some
mistake--Cerebro could not simply have vanished! Yet nothing remained of Xavier's
massive complex but a huge, smoking hole! What incredible calamity could have wiped
out the entire X-Team without a trace?
"What do you mean, 'they're
gone'?" Sinister demanded, his voice harsh with shock. "That is impossible!"
Without realizing it, she
must have forced a psychic link with every mutant in the cavern--she could even sense
Creed's floundering thoughts on the verge of her consciousness! Pitiful human...but
even he would have his own role to play...
She ruthlessly impelled the
newly-forged links to greater clarity, thrusting an appalling image of molten, smoking
destruction into each of their minds. "Xavier and his team are gone!"
she hissed. "The danger is over!"
Yet...even as she spoke, she
could feel a gathering inside the portal, unbelievable power surging, growing, nearing...
Her frantic cry echoed
through the chamber only an instant before the entire universe exploded around her. And
she was falling into darkness again...
So what if it was a trap? After being imprisoned in that damned crystalline cube for so
long, he'd welcome an honest fight!
Unimaginable noise and light
assaulted Wolverine's hyper-acute senses as he plunged through the glowing portal.
Ride with it...stay
fierce, primal battle cry escaped him as he hurtled through the far side and lunged at the
first body to block his path.
Black mask and body
suit...gleam of barely concealed weapons...
was that little maggot doing here?
Snarling, Wolverine slashed
at the ninja's huge laser pistol. His razor-sharp claws lacerated and threw it aside
before the startled assassin could fire a single shot.
As he spun away, he caught
the barest glimpse of Proteus charging headlong into the fray, and the shocked look on
Omega Red's angular white face. Gutsy kid, phasing the Russian's deadly tentacles into
hissing cobras! Let 'em attack their owner for a change!
Suddenly the cavern seemed
full of shouting mutants--Sinister's so-called 'elite force' was scattering in panic as he
and his teammates spread out into a wide defensive pattern.
Well, let 'em run, he
scoffed. That'd only make it easier for the X-Men to bring 'em down!
He leaped aside, nearly
tripping over Emma Frost's prone body, as Deadpool tried to pepper him with tiny
adamantium-tipped shuriken. One of the lethal projectiles slashed through his shoulder,
and he hissed in pain. Yet even before he'd regained his footing and launched into another
wild charge, the bleeding had stopped and the sharp, stabbing pain had faded. Chalk up
another miraculous recovery to his body's regenerative powers--he'd have been dead a
thousand times over without 'em!
"Take more'n that
to slow me down, karate kid!" he taunted, feinting to one side and then sweeping his
legs into a tight circle to trip the other mutant. "Whatsa matter, buddy boy--gettin'
old under that ugly mask?"
Jubilee hesitated only long enough to make sure that Wolverine wasn't seriously
hurt--she'd seen what those nasty little death-stars could do! Reassured, she scanned the
cavern for a good target of her own. Rogue was already spiraling in intricate circles
around Juggernaut's massive armored head, and she'd only get in Gambit's way if she tried
to distract Sabertooth!
Was it really true, she
briefly wondered, that the tawny-maned giant had killed one of Gambit's old girlfriends,
way back when he was still with the Thieves' Guild? No wonder he was so furious--he had a
real score to settle! Just like she would, if anything ever happened to Kevin!
Good thing Banshee wasn't here to see what kind of lowlife snake his younger brother had
become--the cowardly little wimp was trying to sneak out of the cave! Well, she'd just see
about that! Grinning, Jubilee darted across the dirt floor, palms
"Storm!" Rogue's clear voice rang above the din as their elegant team leader
hovered above the portal, anxiously surveying the confused bedlam. "Try t' call
P'fessor Xavier an' Jean! They're gonna wanta get in on this action!"
And despite Rogue's cheery
tone, Storm reluctantly conceded, there was no denying that they were badly outnumbered,
and in serious need of reinforcements! Galvanized, the white-clad Egyptian princess soared
for the beckoning entryway.
"Not so fast!" A
low, sultry voice echoed in Storm's ears as an ominously familiar figure slunk out of the
shadows, fingers spread wide. "You're getting dizzy...very dizzy! Your mind
is mine to control!"
Storm quickly shut her eyes,
but it was too late--the entire world was spinning, whirling around her in sickening
patterns. She must fight...must fight...
Then the rocky wall reached
out to smash into her shoulder, and she slumped to the floor with a cry of pain.
Brute strength was not the
solution--she must use cunning to overcome this evil mutant's treacherous powers! Yet it
took every ounce of willpower to cease struggling against her own bewildered senses, and
Through barely slitted eyes,
she saw Vertigo approach. A slender boot nudged at her ribs, half-rolling her over. Storm
forced her body to remain limp, sprawled in the dirt.
Vertigo kicked her again,
hard enough to bruise her ribs. Storm stubbornly held her silence.
Finally, satisfied that her
victim was truly unconscious, Vertigo tossed long white-blonde hair over her shoulder and
stalked back into the center of the cave.
Storm suppressed a triumphant
laugh. Simpleminded fool, turning her back on an enemy! It would be so simple to hurl a
single lightning bolt at the woman's unprotected back...
Yet that would not be worthy
of Professor Xavier's training. And at the moment, she was in a position to do Sinister's
band of ruffians much greater damage. Keeping a careful eye on the nearest combatants, she
cautiously slid one hand up across her chest and pressed the circular communit button on
her dirty white flightsuit.
Wherever the Professor was,
he would instantly receive her signal and know that she had returned...and
the X-Men would
home in on
Sinister's dark lair.
"I'm tellin' ye, I don' like it!" Jorge protested as he stretched his flexible
black body up to peer over the thick treetops. His crisp Australian accent drifted back
down through the dark, heavy foliage like an eerie echo. "I got a real bad feelin'
Ruckus tossed his long
white-blond hair aside and waved one hand in an impatient gesture. "Ah, you worry too
much!" he grumbled. "So what if she does get first pick? Sinister's not
gonna leave us out--he needs us!"
A wry grin curved his lips as
he settled back against a tree trunk, arms lazily folded behind his head. "Who else
would he find to do his dirty work?" he pointed out. "We ain't got it so bad, ya
Jorge shrank back down enough
to toss him a disgusted glare. "Sure, if ye don't mind sharin' yer bed with them
stinkin' monkeys an' creepy-crawlies! Thought I'd left that kinda vermin backabeyond!
"An' I don' trust her
none, either!" he added, scowling. "Thought she was gonna melt us int' a puddle
or sump'n just fer darin' t' touch 'er!"
Ruckus laughed aloud.
"She's a feisty one, all right!" he exclaimed. "I reckon maybe even
Sinister's met his match this time!"
A primal, bloodcurdling howl
suddenly echoed from the darkened cave. The two gangly mutants froze in startled shock for
one brief moment, then leaped forward. "I knew she couldn' be trusted!"
Jorge snarled as he flowed forward ahead of his partner in a tarry black wave. "C'mon!"
They'd expected a
fight--there was no mistaking that distinctive clashing of weapons. Yet neither of them
were prepared for the sight that met their eyes when they charged into the main cavern.
The X-Men! Where had
they come from?
They hesitated, staring in
shocked disbelief, at the chaotic scene. Avalanche and Deadpool were ganging up on
That insipid, overgrown Blob
was trying to squash the lanky Cajun mutant, Gambit, with his immense, lardy body...
Sinister himself was
defending Juggernaut by firing deadly glowing energy beams at Rogue...
Ruckus and Jorge blinked at
each other, bewildered. How could those obnoxious do-gooder mutants have gotten past
Sinister's outraged bellow
spurred them into motion again. Jorge raced toward Emma Frost, who was just stirring--and
in serious danger of being trampled by Sabertooth!
Ruckus headed in the other
direction. That impudent little teenager, Jubilee, was trying to corner Black Tom--well,
he'd just see about that!
"Well, well, now--what 'ave we 'ere?" Pyro's high-pitched,
mocking voice rang entirely too close to Storm's ears for comfort. "Al'ays hit 'em
when they're down, 'at's what I say!"
Storm hastily abandoned her
feigned unconsciousness and launched herself into the air--a scant instant before Pyro's
raging gout of living fire enveloped the spot where she'd been laying. Deadly flames
pursued her through the air, snatching at her elegant cape with savage claws.
She instantly spun in a tight
aerial circle. "Rains, quench this unholy fire!" she cried, summoning a quick
downpour. "Perhaps the arctic cold will subdue your enthusiasm for mayhem!" And
before the shocked little Brit could dart away, she encased him in a torrent of icy sleet.
Omega Red was having his own problems--no matter what tactics he chose, that brazen Irish
monster was one step ahead of him!
Lash at the grinning youth
with his coils, and they suddenly became venomous cobras. Electrocute the cobras,
and the ground beneath his feet melted into a treacherous lava-filled pit. Hurl
himself to one side, and Sinister's tree roots came alive, seeking to entrap him!
Enough was enough!
That ugly black tar-mutant was just lifting the little telepath to her feet--they
would serve as admirable bait until he could strike out with some degree of success!
He sidestepped once, twice,
and around Avalanche's bulky frame...
There! Let the
cocky teenager strike a woman--if he could muster the courage!
Proteus narrowed his glowing
slash-eyes as Omega Red's treacherous tactics became clear. Now he was facing three
opponents--and one of them was an immensely powerful telepath. If she penetrated his mind,
she could turn his reality shifts against him and his teammates.
He instinctively reached for
his mentor's powerful psyche as a buffer--then grimly shook his head, and reached deeper
inside his own soul for strength. Regardless of what genetic ties they might share,
Professor Xavier could not help him in this situation.
He'd have to face his destiny
like a man, not a frightened child.
Emma was still so dazed by the portal's brilliant explosion of light and sound that she
barely even noticed the mayhem around her. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined
such limitless power! For one brief moment, she had become the entire universe, become
the essence of all life-force itself!
The minds around her were
closed now, shut off in desperate concentration... fighting for their lives? Startled, she
glanced around with new awareness, noticing the frantic struggles around her for the first
Of course--that final surge
of power must have carried them back from the far reaches of the galaxy!
Which meant that they must
have a telepath with them!
With unerring precision, her
questing mind focused on the huge glowing creature facing her.
So this was Proteus, Xavier's
Her equal in strength,
perhaps...but not in cunning.
A grim smile curved her lips
as she prepared her first attack.
It was all happening so fast!
Mystique stared in wondering
disbelief as Rogue darted to one side, nimbly evading Sinister's glowing energy blasts.
The deadly discharges shattered a section of the sloping roof, and a heavy
stalactite smashed onto Juggernaut's massive head.
Despite herself, she winced
as the brawny giant staggered. Good thing that helmet was impervious to damage!
Avalanche was trying to shake
Wolverine's concentration along with a wide section of the floor...but the wiry little
Canadian was quicker than either of his angry opponents. Deadpool stumbled and
nearly fell as the ground beneath his feet splintered. Mystique briefly wondered if
he might launch a salvo of weapons at Avalanche in retaliation for his clumsiness!
She backed a few steps deeper
into the shadows to avoid notice. Rogue could handle herself, and she had no real
quarrel with the X-Men right now.
Somehow, for this one
encounter, she found herself honor-bound to protect young Creed. He was here under
duress--and he'd already endured far too much abuse at Sabertooth's expense. Those
healing bruises spoke of violent beatings that she wouldn't have wished on her worst
enemy...let alone her own son, mutant-hater though he might be.
She watched in reluctant
fascination as Sabertooth launched himself at Gambit, claws extended. The tawny-maned
giant really was magnificent in action. Too bad he wasn't as intelligent as his
adversary...Gambit simply ducked and rolled across the stony floor, leaving Sabertooth to
smash into Blob's massive stomach and rebound like a child's toy.
Though it irked her to admit
it, Rogue could have done a lot worse than to marry the wily Cajun thief. She had
been oddly touched at their wedding...not that anyone had realized she was nearby.
She'd morphed herself into a small bird and perched on the outer fence, warbling a sweet
song, during the lovely outdoor ceremony.
bitterness at losing her beautiful daughter for good, she'd realized an odd sense of peace
in knowing that the girl was finally happy.
You're going soft, Raven,
she bitterly chided herself. First Kurt, then Rogue, and now this miserable excuse for
But like it or not, Creed was
her son. She owed him her protection. Maybe it would even help prove to him that not all
mutants were inherently evil.
A wry grin curved her lips at
the very thought. After everything he'd done to make her life a living hell, that would
be the final irony...
• • • • •
"Take that, ya big bully!" Jubilee yelled.
Dazzling plasma globes
exploded only inches from Ruckus's head, startling him.
Before the gangly
white-haired mutant could react, Black Tom swung his heavy staff in her direction. She
just barely managed to leap aside as a thick burst of energy exploded from the tip and
shattered the rock behind her.
"Hey, that's not
fair!" she yelped. "Why don'tcha..."
Wavering shadows in the cave
entrance made her stifle a heartfelt groan. Just what they needed--more of
Sinister's goons! Weren't they already outnumbered enough?
Then a glowing shaft of red
energy lanced through the gloom, and her black eyes widened in delight.
The X-Men were finally here!
A grim smile curved Cyclops's
lips as he caught sight of his black-caped enemy firing up at Rogue. He'd been waiting a
long time for this! Triumphant, he slapped at the corner of his visor, and a brilliant
laser bolt shot across the cave...
...just as Omega Red stumbled
into his path! Cyclops scowled as the lethal energy splashed off the huge Russian's
impenetrable carbonadium armor. "Dammit, I missed!" he muttered.
His teammates were already
spreading out, picking their opponents. Trust Jean to throw herself into the fray right
behind him...how he loved her indominable courage!
And her cleverness, in
raising a psychokinetic shield around Ruckus just before he could launch one of his
earth-shaking yells! The big mutant's agonized grimace as he sank to his knees, clutching
his ears, was worth any risk!
Morph's infectious laughter
echoed in his ears as the younger mutant threw Jean an enthusiastic thumbs-up. "He
can dish it out, but he sure can't take it, can he?" he sneered.
By now, the rest of
Sinister's motley band was reacting, spreading out to meet their challenge. And they
looked about evenly matched.
Good! It'd be more of a fair
challenge that way!
Grinning, Cyclops stalked
into the cave.
To be continued.....