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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16


Written by NicoPony
Last updated: 05/06/2007 06:22:13 PM

Chapter 8

Regan Wyngarde, or Lady Mastermind as she was also called, trailed a languid hand over the balustrade. She was slowly walking up the staircase leading to the atrium. The day had cooled off considerably at nightfall, and Regan sought the atrium with the intention of getting some fresh air. Several more caterwauling teenagers had shown up at the doorstep that day; whining, complaining, arguing and sulking, as was their wont. She had little enough patience for kids as it was, and the place was all ready knee-deep in brats.

The glass door to the atrium sighed open, bringing with it the scent of damp earth and green things. To Regan’s disappointment, Storm was wandering amongst the green leaves and trees, her normally serene face was shadowed with sadness and regret.

“Hey!” Regan said, as she closed the door behind her. Storm’s head jerked up as she was startled out of her reverie. “Grow anything good in here?” Regan asked, as she mimed bringing a cigarette to her lips and sucking in. “Y’know, I could stand a little something to help me relax.”

Storm looked at Regan with bewilderment. “I honestly have no idea what you are insinuating,” she said.

“Geez, what are you, a babe in the woods? I asked if you got any pot, weed, the ganje? Mar-ih-wah-naaa!”

“Of course not!” Storm exclaimed. “This is a school!”

“You didn’t smoke pot in school?” Regan asked.

Storm shook her head in frustration. “This conversation is inane.” She walked past Regan and toward the door.

“What a tight-ass,” Regan muttered.

Apparently, Storm had heard Regan’s comment. The white-haired woman turned to retort when suddenly, the room, the hall and the surrounding grounds of the mansion were plunged into darkness.

Storm looked around. “What on earth...?”

“What’s a-matter?” asked Regan.

“The mansion just lost power,” Storm said, as she tried flicking the light switch by the door.

Regan looked upward as the light flashed on and off. “It did?”

Storm gave her an irritated look. “What do you mean by it, Regan? Do you seek to vex me? Well, you have succeeded. Can you not see the lights are off?”

Regan looked up at the blaring greenhouse lights, and shielded her eyes. “The lights are fine, chicky. Uhm...are you sure you haven’t got a stash somewhere?”

“I do not know what game it is you are trying to play, Regan,” said Storm as she turned to leave. “Karima mentioned some mechanical glitches. Perhaps I should go find her.”

As Storm exited the atrium, she encountered several students milling about in the dark. “Hey, what’s going on?” asked a younger girl when she banged into Storm by accident.

“I am not sure, child. Please, go back to your room until this is resolved. We can not all be stumbling over one another in the dark.”

From somewhere downstairs came a loud crash that sent tremors through the floorboards. The sounds of chaos were quickly followed by frightened screams.

“By the Goddess!” Storm cried. “We are under attack!”

Cable and Cannonball ran down the hall leading to the front foyer. From up ahead came the rumble of disaster and the sharp staccato blasts of a firearm. Cable readied his own firearm, though he was loathe to discharge it in such close quarters, and with so many innocents nearby. For awhile, the duo ran in silence toward the sound of shouting and gunfire when Cable suddenly stopped short.

“Shouldn’t we have arrived by now?” Cable asked.

Cannonball came to a stumbling halt. “Wh-what?” He looked around. “You’re right. I swear I’ve passed that bust twice, now.”

The sounds of chaos up ahead seemed to grow no nearer though they continued walking. “Something’s wrong,” Cable said, readying his weapon. Suddenly, the hall seemed to twist and writhe. Both men were thrown from their feet.

“Ack!” Cannonball cried, holding his hand over his mouth. “Feel sick...!”

Cable was practically doing a headstand as he tried to run along what he thought was the ceiling. It occurred to him that he shouldn’t be able to run along the ceiling and he collapsed in a heap. From the carpeted floor, he could see two figures running toward him from a great distance.

“Those two?” asked the male figure.

“No, they’re clean,” the woman answered. There was a sudden blast of ultra-bright light from the man.

Cable tried to reach out and grab one of them in his blindness as they ran past, but only ended up grabbing the leg of a nearby settee which he wrestled to the ground.

“Cable!” cried Cannonball, who was trying to detach the older man from his battle with the furniture. “Cable, they’ve gone! We’ve got to go find the others.”

Cable at last found his feet.

“C’mon, I can still hear the gunfire. It sounds like it’s comin’ from the boy’s dorms!”

For awhile, the duo ran in silence toward the sound of shouting and gunfire.

“I swear I’ve passed that bust twice, now...!”

Sabretooth dropped to his feet and shook his shaggy head. He had no idea where he was. The last thing he remembered was that damned robot-girl tossing him into this tube-thingy, while Wolverine stood by with a gloating look on his stupid mug.

The big man righted himself as he surveyed his surroundings. He saw, too late, the red flash of a laser scope above his heart. He jerked back as two silent sniper bullets pierced his chest. Sabretooth fell back into the machinery around him with a crash and a roar. Another bullet whizzed past his ear, skimming the surface of his skull. Sabretooth seized a chair from near where he had fallen and flung it at the sniper. The man dodged away and fled through the doorway.

“Oh, so you want me t’follow y’out there, do you?” Sabretooth snarled. He cast one more look around the room. The monitor nearby was flashing: Security Disarmed, in big red letters. Creed grabbed the monitor and ripped it from the wall with the spark and buzz of electrical wires. He ran out into the hall with a scream and hurled the large monitor down the hallway. It clattered down the corridor in a rain of sparks and shattering glass.

The assailant suddenly leaped from the cover of a nearby doorwell and fired. “Aw, shit!” Creed snarled and dove to the ground. He caught a glimpse of the shooter. The partially mechanical man was raising his rifle, the eyepiece over his right eye blinking red. “Frickin’ Greycrow! I’m gonna rip yer damn Injun face off!” Another bullet winged his shoulder, and he took a fourth in the thigh. With a growl of admitted defeat and a series of curse words, he turned tail and ran. Bullets peppered the walls behind him.

Scalphunter was about to pursue the fleeing feral, when he was brought up short by the sight of a pale mist creeping along the metal floor.

“Don’t worry,” came a voice from the mist. “It won’t kill you. Though I don’t recommend breathing it, if you can help it.”

Scalphunter backed up a few paces as Death emerged from the roiling mist. He was carrying a haversack over one shoulder, his long axe-like staff held in the opposite hand.

“You got the samples?”

“Like taking...how d’you say...Candies from infants?” Death wore that somewhat befuddled look he often had when trying to remember something.

“Something like that,” Scalphunter said, as the mist slowly cleared, revealing a large, blue-furred form stretched out along the hall. “He’s clean?” he asked, when his optical readout remained clear. “That’s surprising.”

“He must’ve had the good sense to wear gloves around Patient Zero. Sinister will be pleased,” Death said, as he passed Scalphunter. “He is fond of the good doctor.”

“Fine. Mission accomplished. Now, let’s get the hell out of here before the others show up.”

“Are you forgetting something?” Death turned slightly, and eyed Scalphunter with one glowing eye.

“What’s that?”

“Patient Zero. I thought I’d give her a proper send-off,” Death grinned the macabre grin of the mentally deranged. He blew a kiss into the air. “The kiss of Death, so to speak.”

A bolt of lightning left a crater in the floor inches from Random’s foot. He jumped up and down on one leg. “Ooo, ah, hot hot hot!”

Storm readied another strike as Random waved his hands as if to ward her off. “Look, lady, y’don’t wanna do this!”

“You attack us in our own home! You endanger the lives of innocents!” Storm crackled with building energy.

“Well, I didn’t want to bring this up, but,” Random’s form rippled and Storm watched with growing horror as a small face appeared amidst the writhing ribbons of the big man’s protoplasmic form. The little girl gasped, her eyes wide with fear. Another child’s hands and a leg appeared. Limbs flailed frantically. Random had apparently captured several students and had hidden them inside his undulating form.

“Release them at once!” Storm cried.

“No can do, weather lady,” as he pointed his fist at her. Several gun barrels formed where his arm should be. “Now, I need you to back off. I don’t wanna hurt you, Angel Face.”

Storm looked at a loss for a moment, before she screamed: “X-Men! To me!”

However, she failed to get the response she desired. Instead, a potted plant tumbled down from the balcony above and struck her on the top of her head. Storm fell in a moaning heap at Random’s feet. He looked up to see a tall, lissome blond looking down at him. She held a rose to her face and inhaled. Random grinned.

“Malice, I presume?”

Hank McCoy groaned and rubbed his head. He sat up slowly as his surroundings came into focus. He was abruptly blasted with a beam of light.

“Agh!” he cried, shielding his eyes.

“Flashlight?” asked a voice out of the darkness.

Blinking rapidly, his vision cleared to reveal Emma Frost proffering a flashlight.

“Thanks a lot,” he said, snatching it away from the woman.

“What’s going on here?” Emma asked.

“I was hoping you’d tell me,” Hank asked.

Emma closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. Her eyes flashed open. “The Marauders,” she said breathlessly.

Hank’s heart gave a jolt. “But how did they get inside without our knowing?”

Emma shook her head. “I’m calling the others together. We’re too scattered.”

Hank stood and looked into his nearby lab, shining the flashlight into the corners. The beam fell upon the empty shelves of a nearby cabinet. “Oh, no.”

Emma was too preoccupied to respond. Beast approached the empty cabinet, which had moments ago, contained the DNA samples of the mansion’s students. The light fell upon a card, sitting on the bare shelves. Who would have left him with a playing card? The answer filled him with growing dread.

However, as he picked up the card, he saw it was not a playing card, as he had expected. Instead, the solemn face of a saint looked up at him entreatingly. The figure on the card bore an axe-like spear on one shoulder, a pentecostal flame burned above the saint’s head. He turned it over. ’Saint Jude, patron of hopeless cases, of things almost despaired of,’ he read.

Hank turned as Emma gasped.

“They’re too confused,” she said. “I can’t raise them. We have to go!”

“Very well,” said Hank as he tucked the card away. He seized Emma and slung her over his back. She shrieked with surprise as Hank bounded down the hallway, her arms around his neck as she hung on for dear life.

“This way!” Wolverine growled as he stalked along the edge of the lake. Karima pounded after him, her eyes scanning the grounds for signs of Sabretooth. Here and there, large droplets of blood smattered the ground, shining inky black in the moonlight. Wolverine was so intent on following Sabretooth’s trail, he failed to notice the sudden flare of light from the tree line.

“Logan!” Omega Sentinel cried. “Look out!”

A glowing spear launched from the darkness. Logan dodged, and the spear arced over his head. However, he found with sudden realization, the spear had not been aimed at him. With a shattering blast, the spear struck Karima dead-on in the chest. She gave an electric-sounding shriek that echoed across the lake as the lance detonated.

“Karima!” Wolverine cried. Splashes in the surface of the water alerted him to a fast approaching presence. He looked away from where the Omega Sentinel lay to see a whirling formation coming at him from across the lake. Bone shuriken shredded the nearby vegetation. A figure lunged from the brush and began running. With a grunt of surprise, Wolverine recognized Sabretooth running full tilt in his direction. Logan readied his claws.

“Don’t just stand there, ya dumb mook!” Sabretooth was screaming. “Get the hell outta the way!”

Another charged spear launched from the cover of the trees. Wolverine fell back and was bowled over by a fleeing Sabretooth as the spear exploded nearby.

“Y’don’t mean t’tell me you’re not with these guys?” Wolverine exclaimed as Sabretooth continued to gallop back toward the mansion. He got no answer as shards of bone blew up chunks of dirt around him. Wolverine threw up his arms to protect his eyes from the flying debris whipped up in Riptide’s wake. The whirling mutant soared past him without so much as a backward glance.

Wolverine looked up as a flame-trail streaked across the sky. At first, he was hoping to see the familiar form of Rogue appear. However, as the fireball grew nearer, he saw it was not Rogue, but the former Horseman, Sunfire. A blast of flame incinerated the twitching form of the Omega Sentinel as Sunfire roared past.

Wolverine’s cry of protest was lost amongst the gush of flames. When he was able to see through the fire, he saw there was little left but a streak of scorched earth. Wolverine turned with a furious snarl as Sunfire streaked by a second time. As he turned, he spotted the Marauder Harpoon striding toward him.

“Creed touched you, didn’t he?” the thickheaded mutant asked him. “That’s too, too bad.”

Wolverine had no idea what Harpoon was talking about, and he launched himself at the Marauder with insane furor. However, he was slammed back with a blast of heat from Sunfire. Logan rolled several feet through the long grass.

He looked up to see a tall female form standing over him. The eyepiece covering her right eye blinked red several times, then cleared. “Hm,” the woman known as Arclight said. “Do I or don’t I?” She raised her leg over Wolverine’s head. “How ’bout once more for old time’s sake?”

Arclight didn’t have time to decide before a blue-white lightning bolt streaked from the sky, flinging her back with a hiss of electricity and a clap of thunder. Drenching rain immediately followed. Logan looked up, the after-image of the lightning bolt leaving green and orange spots in his vision. Storm soared overhead, her robes whipping about in the gale force winds. She looked pretty angry.

Logan grinned wickedly as he leaped to his feet and streaked toward the standing figures of Harpoon and Sunfire.

There was going to be hell to pay.

Cable and Cannonball came to a panting halt, finding themselves in the same hallway. Then the lights suddenly came on, revealing a well-worn carpet and wisps of smoke.

“What happened?” Cannonball asked.

“Whatever rat race we’ve been running just ended,” Cable growled. “And I’ll give you one guess as to who is behind it all.”

Cannonball didn’t get a chance to reply, as the door behind him flew open and a hand reached out and tapped him on top of the head. Cannonball collapsed in a heap, twitching.

Cable raised his weapon and blasted the doorway. Bits of wood and plaster sprayed in all directions. Cable leaped in front of the door, firing several blasts as he did so. Little flames smoldered inside the room, and debris crashed down in all directions. After several moments, nothing moved. Cable crept forward a few inches to stand over the form of his fallen colleague. Sam appeared unconscious, but was otherwise breathing normally. All at once, he heard the voice of Emma Frost echoing in his head.

“Where is everyone!?” she exclaimed. Her psychic contact was ill-timed.

Cable looked up in time to see an overly familiar marble bust flying at his head. The bust clipped his forehead and sent him sprawling across the hall. He fired off a few shots that went wide, and the spry figure of the Marauder known as Scrambler landed on his chest.

“Nighty-night!” Scrambler cried and his hands grabbed hold of Cable’s bare arms. Cable’s body jerked in agony as the techno-organic infection afflicting him suddenly flared out of his control. He found he could no longer access his telekinesis or telepathy. He struggled to teleport to safety, but his body was spasming uncontrollably. It was a struggle just to breathe!

Scrambler suddenly jerked above him; the Marauder’s eyes went wide. Cable felt hot blood spatter across his face and chest.

I’ve been hit?, he tried to feel out where he’d been struck. But it was Scrambler whose mouth opened and his scream came out as a wet gurgle. The sharp end of a spear was jutting out from the center of Scrambler’s chest. The Marauder jerked again, and collapsed onto Cable’s chest. Cable hadn’t the strength to shove his attacker away, but he found the weight of the dead mutant suddenly lifted.

Death was standing above Cable, his figure back-lit by the overhead light. He kicked Scrambler’s body away.

“What did I tell you?” he asked the corpse. “Didn’t I tell you not to kill them that’s not infected?”

“Gam---uh, Death!” called a voice from down the hall. Cable could barely turn his head, but from the corner of his eye, he managed to spot Scalphunter beckoning the Horseman. “Two targets are just ahead!”

Death brought his weapon down with a sharp ringing sound, neatly taking off the head of the Marauder Scrambler. Cable closed his eyes as another spray of blood hit him in the face. Death then calmly stepped over Cable’s prone form and followed after Scalphunter. Freed from Scrambler’s grip, he was now able to wrangle the techno-organic infection back under control. However, the effort expended the remainder of his strength, and he found himself falling into unconsciousness.

Mystique and Pulse jumped from the second story balcony to land in the just-turned flowerbed below. They’d only just received the summons from Emma to regroup and assess their losses. They were headed toward the stables. They spotted several of the 198 and the Institute students running in that direction. On the outskirts of the grounds, they saw the roiling mass of clouds and the flash of lightning and streak of flames. The overall confusion was undoubtedly caused by some creation of Lady Mastermind, though to what purpose, it was yet unclear.

“Are you able to cancel out the rest of Regan’s illusions?” Mystique asked Pulse as they ran after the other mansion inhabitants.

“I can try,” Pulse answered, closing his eyes briefly in concentration. His steps faltered and he nearly fell, but Mystique seized his arm and pulled him upright.

“What is it?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know...” his voice slurred. “I feel---I feel kinda sick.”

Mystique gasped and yanked Pulse upright, she put her hands to either side of his face, which quickly began to turn blue. “Augustus!” She was shocked when his face seemed to waver and form in her hands. He was looking at her, mouth agape, when the side of his head burst in a spray of blood and bone fragments. Mystique shrieked in horror as Pulse collapsed dead at her feet. She looked up, searching for the source of the attack. She spotted the glint of moonlight on metal and dove to the side as a sniper’s bullet whispered into the dirt where she had just been. The sniper was taking aim from the balcony she and Pulse had leaped from moments ago. Mystique scrambled backwards and away, surging to her feet and running for cover. Her shoulder-blades itched as if she could feel the sniper’s scope take aim at her back. She feinted and found her intuition was right; the bullet whizzed past her into the darkness.

She heard the sound of footsteps running after her in the grass. She risked a glance behind. A cloaked form was hot on her heels. Yanking her gun from his holster, she blindly fired behind as she ran. Something soared over her head in an arc and struck the earth before her. Too late, she nearly ran into the projectile and stumbled in her effort to avoid it. She was seized from behind and borne to the ground. Her attacker hit the ground beside her, and the breath woofed out of his lungs.

Mystique rolled away from the attacker and onto her back. She raised her firearm, but her wrist was forced to the ground as her attacker fell atop her. He pushed himself back, and threw his long hair out of his eyes. Mystique sucked in a breath to scream out with both fear and rage. But a black hand clamped down over her mouth and her lungs suddenly filled with burning poison. Terror gave her newfound strength and she flung Death away. He rolled aside, with a dry sound that might have been a laugh. Mystique climbed to her hands and knees, trying to crawl away as she retched. The Horseman slowly rose to his feet behind her, walked over to where his scythe lay embedded in the grass, and yanked it free. She felt, rather than saw him raise his weapon behind her. Any moment now, and her head would fly free from her neck. Mystique turned and collapsed onto her back, preferring to face her death rather than be executed from behind.

She heard a dim, tinny squawk of sound come from the communication-link looped over Death’s right ear. “Patient Zero spotted! Death! Incoming, incoming!”

Death paused, then whirled around just as a green and white streak plowed into his chest, trailing a comet’s tail of flames.

Mystique struggled to breathe as she stared up into the night sky. A flash of light made her turn her head. The crystalline man, Prism, was running full tilt in her direction. She flailed her limbs in an effort to right herself. Prism unleashed an intense beam of light which scorched the grass not far from where she lay. She blinked back tears, and watched as Pulse’s body erupted in flame. She couldn’t scream or cry out, as her tongue swelled in her mouth. She felt herself begin to suffocate. Prism turned to her, and from a distance, it appeared as if his right eye were blinking red. She saw him raise his arm and take aim at her. She looked around hopefully for Rogue, but her daughter had vanished into the forest with Death.

Her breath wheezed out of her lungs and fell back in the grass as the light brightened. But then she felt a blast of intense cold as Iceman slid past her. Iceman pummeled the Marauder with sheets upon sheets of ice. It became bone-achingly cold, and the metamorph struggled to crawl away.

In the darkness, she saw a bulky form lumbering toward her. Mystique put her head down, thinking things couldn’t possibly get worse. The large form revealed itself to be Sabretooth, and she inwardly groaned.

Wolverine was just behind. From above came the roar of winds, and Storm lowered herself from the glowering clouds. A double strike of lightning came from above, crashing into the frozen form of Prism. Shards of ice and crystal flew through the air with lethal force. Raven found herself saved within a protective bubble of ice. Iceman was sliding over to her, his icy face a mask of fear.

“Raven!” he cried. “Are you all right?!”

“Nnuh,” was all she could manage before her world went black.

Trees whipped past as Rogue carried Death deeper into the forest. She slammed him through several stout branches before finally releasing him. He flew several more feet before crashing to the forest floor in a shower of withered leaves and twigs.

Rogue was breathing hard, and for one heart-stopping moment, the forest was completely still. She was certain she’d killed him. Then she heard a muffled sound. He was saying something to her.

“What?” she asked, as she landed several feet from where Death lay.

“I said: You lost me my scythe!” he roared and flung several blades in her direction. She narrowly dodged the spinning projectiles and they neatly embedded themselves in the tree behind her.

Rogue lunged for Death’s throat. He met her lunge and used her momentum to toss her further into the woods. Rogue struck a tree and landed on her hands and knees. A shower of twigs rained down from the branches above. She scrambled to her feet as Death came after her, cold loathing in his eyes. They met in the middle with a crash, and Rogue landed on top of the Horseman. She grappled with his arms, trying to force his hands away from her throat. For a moment, their faces were inches apart. Her green eyes bore into his red. Rogue could no longer see any trace of the man she once knew in that hateful face.

“This is the end for you, sugar,” she breathed into his face.

Death freed one of his legs from beneath Rogue’s. With a lurch, she found herself pressed beneath his body; his hair fell down on either side of her face. Then, to her shock and revulsion, he crushed his mouth to hers.

Rogue felt a sudden deluge of horror fill her mind. Agony lanced through her body as memories of Gambit’s grotesque transformation into Death flashed past. Invasions of the mind and body that were intimate and obscene. She could hear nothing over the sounds of her own screams.

It was the cruelest thing he could think to do to her. Death pulled away from the screaming woman, found his footing and stumbled a few feet. He collapsed in the leaf litter not too far from Rogue. He needed to kill her, he thought, as he pulled a blade from his belt. She was Patient Zero. She was unclean.

She would kill them all.

Death gasped and fell to his knees, the blade fell from his slack fingers. He fell forward into the loamy earth.

A voice was echoing in his right ear. It sounded far away. He awoke and idly wondered why he was laying face down in the dirt. Face down in the gutter was what he expected, so this was a slight improvement. Where the hell was he?

“Death! Horseman!” the voice was calling. Then finally, he heard: “Gambit!”

“Greycrow?” he answered the disembodied voice.

“I’m approaching your location, are you injured?”

He tried to take stock of his situation, but his brain felt oddly detached from the rest of his body. “I dunno,” he said at last. At least his mouth was working. But then, people had often told him before that his mouth seemed to work without much conscious thought.

He didn’t hear the sound of Greycrow approaching. He was only aware of the other man’s presence when Scalphunter rolled him onto his back.

“Hey, G.C.,” Gambit said. “How’s tricks?”

Scalphunter looked down into the face of the man he once called friend. He was startled by the recognition he saw in the other man’s eyes. His eyes were drawn away by the woman rocking and crooning to herself in the dirt a few yards away. He reached for his weapon, but Gambit’s hand staid him.

“Don’t do it, homme,” Gambit whispered.

Though Gambit’s grip was weak, Scalphunter was unable to tear himself away from the force of the other man’s gaze. “Now you listen to me this time. We’re getting the hell out of here,” Greycrow said.

“Okie doke,” Gambit said, before he fell back into the dirt.

Scalphunter reached for the armband clasped around Gambit’s (or was it Death’s?) wrist. He set the coordinates and activated the tesseract portal that would allow him to transport back to Sinister’s base of operations. Scalphunter lifted Gambit in a fireman’s carry. A rectangular hole in space appeared, and with Scalphunter bearing his friend’s unconscious body, they disappeared into thin air.


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