X-Men fan fiction
part 1: Gifted Students
Chapter 1: Homecoming
Chapter 2: Recharge
Chapter 3: Regenerate
Chapter4: Xavier's Decision
Chapter 5: X-Men in Training
Chapter6: Mission Fatigue
Chapter 7: New and Improved
Chapter 8: Fear Itself
Chapter 9: Through the Glass
Chapter 10: Mourning Glories
Chapter 11: Ghost Stories
Chapter 12: The Devil and Despair
Chapter 13: Spuytin Dyvil Falls
Chapter 14: Evil Spirits
Chapter 15: Heart Stone
Chapter 16: The Rubble O'r Our Sins
Chapter 17: Shadow Boxing
Chapter 18: House Rules
part 1: Gifted Students
“What just happened?” Two X-Men were picking themselves up from hard-packed dry ground. No longer in a dark, damp, rocky cave, they now found themselves surrounded by bright sandy streets. “Did he transport us out of the cave?” Scott asked.
“No,” Jean answered. “This– isn’t real.”
Scott brushed off sand as he stood, reflexively offering Jean a hand up.
“What isn’t real?” he asked, looking around cautiously.
Jean shook her head, frowning in concentration as she took his hand and got to her feet. The streets were crowded in all directions around them, but passersby were milling about casually, paying them no attention.
“Are the others here?”
“Ororo. Warren. Hank,” Jean nodded. “They’re all nearby. I can sense their minds.”
“Can you open a mental link between all of us?”
“Yes. I think so.” Jean frowned again. Something felt wrong. “Scott– There are people everywhere, all around us, but– no thoughts. “It’s like being in the Danger Room.”
“Could we have been transported back to the Danger Room?” Scott double-tapped the comm link he wore at his shoulder. “Can anybody hear me?” There was no reply.
“Scott, we’ve got trouble.”
Just then, the crowd around them began to panic. No longer milling about casually, but pushing and shoving, moving aggressively toward the end of the street. Scott and Jean turned to see what looked like a solid wall of wind-driven sand covering the otherwise blue sky.
The storm was still off in the distance, but it was heading their way fast, quickly casting an eerie shadow of purple darkness over the otherwise bright day.
“We need to get indoors before that storm hits.”
“Agreed.” Scott looked up the street, already blocked by a crush of people moving away from the storm. But in the other direction.... the streets were less crowded, but they’d risk being overtaken by the storm before they could find shelter.
Jean took hold of Scott’s hand to avoid getting separated by the jostling crowds.
He looked down at her, recognizing the motion as a vote of confidence.
Her expression was as determined as his. “Let’s go.”
The pair broke into a run through the narrow streets, headed into the storm, trying to outrun it.
Several blocks away Ororo was also on the run, but for different reasons: pursued by Farouk’s people. Still a coward, Ororo thought bitterly. He could send as many henchmen after her as he liked. His street thugs hadn’t intimidated her as a child, and they sure as hell didn’t frighten her now. He expects me to play by his rules. I make my own rules now.
Storm stood still, her blue eyes awash in white, tinged by flashes of lightening. Thunderheads rose over the distant desert, their winds pushing fast-moving sands ahead of them. This would clear Farouk’s henchmen off the streets.
Hank dropped down beside her from a nearby roof.
“Told you we’d find her. Just follow the weather.”
Ororo looked up to see Warren hovering overhead.
“What about Scott and Jean? Have you seen them?”
“Warren shook his head at Ororo’s question.
“We were going to ask you the same,” Hank concluded.
“Speaking of unanswered questions, do you have any idea where we are? Hank says it looks like Egypt.”
“Actually, what I said was, judging by architecture, climate, local fashion, and regional dialect–”
“It’s Cairo,” Storm specified, “but–” she paused. “There are facts that don’t add up. That market, for instance. It was gutted by a fire. I remember the destruction clearly. Yet, now, it has been built back, exactly as I remember it.”
“That seems highly improbable,” Hank agreed.
Just then, a streak of red energy burst through the sky.
“Oh, my stars and garters. That can’t be good.”
“I think we know where Scott is,” Warren quipped dryly.
“Let’s go,” Ororo prompted.
Scott couldn’t explain what had happened. One moment he and Jean had been out on the street. There was an abandoned church, surrounded by construction scaffolding. They had been about to take shelter inside. He’d looked up... and for just a moment he’d remembered a similar setting in Omaha, his eyes stinging in the bright sunlight behind dark glasses. Then he’d felt an instant of utter terror. He was hiding his eyes behind dark sunglasses. There was no ruby quartz, nothing to stop his optic blasts. A construction crane was collapsing overhead.
A moment earlier the street had been deserted. Now he could hear the roar of an angry crowd turning on him, on them. Scott yelled for Jean to get clear as they were pushed apart. He had his ruby quartz glasses on now, but it felt like a hundred angry hands were grabbing for him, jostling him. It would be a short matter of time until his glasses slipped and someone got hurt– or worse. He closed his eyes – tightly shut – even as he tried to push the crowd back, palms out defensively, arms up to protect his head.
Then everything stopped. The crowd fell back. Scott cautiously opened his eyes. The crowd parted to let Jean through. She walked toward him, calm and cool, unaffected by the chaos. For a moment he was stunned, speechless. Had she taken psychic control over all of these people?
“I didn’t have to do anything so extreme,” she answered his unspoken thought. “Here. Take this.” His visor appeared as Jean spoke, brought there by her thoughts.
“How did you–?” Scott paused to look away, long enough to replace his glasses with the visor.
“You had it all along, remember?”
Scott looked again. His hands were empty, save for his uniform gloves. Jean was right. He was already wearing his full X-Men gear, visor included.
“But the crane– it collapsed because my glasses failed...” Scott trailed off in confusion. There was no damage from the collapse. The crowd around them had calmly dispersed, going back to their normal routines. No catastrophic destruction. No panic. Even the storm they had been running from was gone. The skies were clear and bright.
“All of this– it’s all in your mind, Scott. Don’t let Shadow King play on your fears.”
Scott nodded, but he was still stunned speechless in a combination of confusion and relief.
“C’mon, Cyke.” Jean gave him a reassuring smile before she led him inside.
The construction site was gone. The abandoned church was no longer a church, just a local shop. Once inside, they sat down at a table to catch their breaths. After a moment they were served tea by the shopkeeper.
“What happened outside,” Jean explained, “it was an informed illusion: a combination of your past self juxtaposed against the very real fears of your present self. Everything here is an illusion. Because I understood that, I could manipulate it.”
“I don’t understand. How is all this not real? I can see you, I can hear you.” Scott sipped his tea. The tea is hot. Everything around us feels real.”
“You have to think outside the box.” Jean stirred her tea, and the contents changed from tea to orange juice and back again before Jean took a sip. “Your mind’s perception makes it real for you, like being inside a dream. You never realize it was a dream until you wake up. But if you knew you were dreaming, you could control the dream.”
“Then, in the cave, Shadow King knocked me out and I’m dreaming.”
“Not exactly.” Jean frowned again. “It’s more real than that.”
“Can you establish that mental link to the others?”
Jean nodded. “I can.” She smiled. “But I don’t think it’s going to be necessary.”
Scott followed her gaze to see Ororo, Warren, and Hank walk through the door.
“We saw the flare you threw up, Fearless Leader,” Hank explained as they sat down.
“It was easy to track your position from the air after that,” Warren added.
“Well, that wasn’t exactly my intention, but I’m glad it worked out that way. Is everyone alright?” Scott asked.
“For the moment, yes,” Hank replied.
“I’d still like to know what’s happening before I answer,” Warren stated bluntly.
“I have a strong theory,” Hank offered. “Jean, what does your telepathy tell you?”
“We’re surrounded by people, but there are no other minds nearby except for the five of us. I can feel Professor Xavier’s mind and– whatever it is that’s attacking him. It has a presence, but it doesn’t feel– human.”
“What about Shadow King?” Scott questioned. “You said you could read his thoughts earlier.”
“I was able to read his thoughts when we were in the cave. It’s harder now. Everything here is permeated with his thoughts, but those thoughts don’t feel structured, centralized, the way they should.” Understanding dawned. “This place isn’t the real world at all, is it?”
Hank met Jean’s gaze. “I believe that our disembodied minds are currently in a standoff against the disembodied, decentralized mind of another mutant, housed inside an enormous crystal.”
There was a moment of silence to process that piece of information.
“It’s difficult for Jean to read his mind because, here, there is no mind, so to speak.”
“So...” Warren paused, “Xavier is being attacked by a demon, and our minds are trapped inside some psychic crystal cavern beneath the Institute grounds.”
“That is my working theory, yes,” Hank replied.
“That’s what I thought you were going to say,” Warren concluded dryly. “Right. Got it.”
“What do we know about this– entity? Farouk. Shadow King. What is he capable of?” Scott asked. “What are we up against?”
“Amahl Farouk was a vicious crime lord who controlled Cairo with an iron fist when I was a child. And apparently he was a mutant,” Ororo added. “Xavier fought him.”
“And apparently he still holds a grudge,” Warren interjected.
Ororo nodded. “Xavier told me the story. But he thought he had defeated the Shadow King.”
“Xavier thought he had defeated a powerful mutant who called himself the Shadow King,” Jean clarified, building from what she had read in Shadow King’s mind, back in the cave. “The man Storm once knew as Amahl Farouk was a mutant whose psychic powers made him a suitable host for this entity. Farouk’s mutation included the ability to possess people, not to read thoughts, but to control or to disable other people’s minds.
“Shadow King needed those psychic powers, like a doorway or an anchor to keep himself relevant in the physical world. But his connection to Farouk also enhanced and expanded Farouk’s powers dramatically. It was as Farouk that Shadow King confronted Professor X, and fought with him. That battle did disable Farouk, and the two were forcibly separated. Shadow King was weakened by the confrontation, weakened to the point where he could not take a new host.”
“So he inhabited this crystal instead,” Ororo assumed.
“Or one very much like it. It’s taken many years of slowly rebuilding his strength for Shadow King to expand his consciousness as deeply as he has into the crystal caverns.”
“And his mind, spirit, essence, is able to survive inhabiting an inanimate object rather than a living host?” Hank presumed.
“It is enough to keep him alive, but it also leaves him trapped. To use his powers in this world he still needs a human host. And to regenerate his strength over time, enough to take another human host, he needs to feed on the dark side of human emotions.”
“He’s using this demon, D’Spayre, to that end,” Scott stated.
“And the demon is attacking Xavier on Shadow King’s command,” Warren noted.
“How do we defeat him, Shadow King, and get ourselves back to the real world?” Scott asked.
“This is a mental battle,” Hank responded. “One I don’t know that we have the capacity to fight, not without Charles.”
“We could use his firepower right now,” Warren agreed.
“Which is why Shadow King tried to disable Xavier before he made this move,” Ororo added.
“I’ll keep trying to reach him,” Jean confirmed, “but I think we also have to accept the possibility that all of this, this illusion Shadow King has drawn us into, is nothing more than an elaborate means of keeping us distracted until Xavier is defeated.”
Scott nodded. “Keep trying. Your first priority is to help Xavier in any way you can.”
“And the rest of us?” Ororo asked.
“We’re going to have to play this hand out. We’re in a landscape of Shadow King’s making, which he can manipulate at will. He knows how to most effectively target us because he has access to our thoughts and our fears.”
“But he has limitations,” Jean reminded Scott. “He can manipulate this environment but not our minds, at least not directly. He needs us to do that for him.”
“Can he do us lasting harm, mental or physical?” Scott asked.
“He can attack our minds, try to alter our perceptions of reality. But physically,” Jean held up one hand, “all we are here are mental projections of our physical selves; he cannot physically damage us within this landscape.”
“English translation, Jean?” Warren asked with a touch of impatience.
“Your body is still lying, safe, in the cavern. Shadow King has no way to physically attack you there because his power is mental, not physical. And he’s trapped inside the crystal without a host mind through whom he can focus his psychic abilities. What he can do is try to manipulate your mind. If he can make you believe he’s dropped a rock on you here, your own mind can make it so for your body in the cavern, inflicting that same physical injury on you.”
Ororo nodded. “In short, we have to believe his illusions, we have to willingly make them our reality, in order for them to have any impact on us.”
“Exactly,” Jean answered.
“This environment Shadow King has created, it’s Cairo exactly as I remember it, from when I was a small child,” Ororo stated. “He cannot have chosen this setting arbitrarily.”
“Maybe we can use that to our advantage,” Scott decided. “We’ve heard he has a list of debts to settle. His focus seems to be solidly on Xavier first. But he’s chosen a specific landscape from your past,” Scott said to Ororo. “He wants that ruby you carry, he said so in the cave.”
“But why?” Hank mused. “What value is it to him now, when what he needs first is passage back to the material world?”
“One way to find out,” Ororo offered with a shrug. “I know where Farouk’s base is. In this setting, he holds the ruby. I’ll go there and steal it back from him – for a third time.”
“He may be expecting that move. If he considers you a threat to him, he’ll attack you first,” Scott warned. “This could be a trap.”
“Then I say, let him come.” Ororo held out her hand, open-palmed, and her own version of the ruby appeared in her hand. “Farouk may know me, but I know him as well.” Ororo gave a tight smile and got to her feet. “He will find that my thoughts are just as powerful as his.”
Scott smiled back. “Good luck.”
Storm gave a nod in acknowledgment, then was on her way.
“Angel. Beast. Track her. Run interference between Storm and anyone sent to stop her, but keep your distance from Farouk. Storm knows what she’s doing. Let her take the lead.”
Angel quickly took flight. Beast paused.
“Shadow King may be interested in settling old scores with Ororo, but Jean is of far greater value to him, as a threat, or as a potential psychic host.”
Cyclops nodded. “Understood. You still have your assignment.”
Jean smiled. “We’ll be fine, Henry.”
“Are you quite certain of that?”
“Without a human host allowing him to interact in the physical world, Shadow King’s powers are quite limited. He cannot possess me nor anyone else, not in his present state.”
“That’s why we need to focus on preventing him from getting any stronger,” Cyclops stated. “If he wants this ruby, we need to find out why. And we need to stop him from getting it. Ororo is in the best position to do that, but she’ll need back up.”
Jean nodded. “Go back up Ro. Scott and I will be fine here.” She watched Hank leave, then took a deep breath, collecting herself.
“What are you thinking?” Scott asked.
“The thing behind the crystal – Shadow King – it’s more than human or mutant. It calls itself a manifestation of the unconscious human dark side, something that has existed since the first human nightmare, feeding on the primal fears of all mankind. And it has tried, for just as long, to make itself a physical entity, ultimately transferring from host to host in order to impact the physical world.”
“What does it want?”
“To transform the physical world into a constant nightmare landscape which strengthens Shadow King as he rules over it. In short, to create enough suffering and strife to make our world a Hell on Earth for everyone but Shadow King.”
“We won’t let that happen.”
“Right now, we’re inside of that consciousness. He’s pulled us – just our minds – into this crystal that houses his life force.” How did Shadow King have the power to separate their minds from their bodies? And more importantly, how would they get back again? “Hank has a valid point. If we lose this battle, Shadow King can possess Xavier, or any of us.” Jean felt a sudden spike of fear. “At the very least, he could leave us all trapped in here, forever, as part of his twisted plot for revenge.”
Scott slipped his hand into hers and held tight, silently reassuring her; no matter what happened, he wasn’t leaving her behind.
Jean nodded, squeezing his hand in return, channeling his determination.
They’d all get out of this, together.
But first they had to defeat Shadow King, and his vile henchmen, D’Spayre.
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004