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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
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30


Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 03/23/2007 01:26:56 AM

Chapter 1

Another portion of the wall behind which he hid disintegrated, but Bishop ignored it. Jean’s telekinetic shield would hold out far longer than the wall. He returned fire toward the weaving figures, barely visible through the smoke. Some were human, some not-quite anymore. Two of the towering Sentinels flanked the attacking group, covering their position with laser fire that had the X-Men fairly well pinned down. Smoke was beginning to make the battleground hazy, but Bishop continued to pour return fire into the haze. He heard an occasional answering scream.

To his left, ice was rolling across the ground in waves, engulfing those Hounds not fast enough to get out of the way. Unfortunately, the Sentinels had their lasers tuned for heat spread, too, so they weren’t in much danger. Then Bishop heard a shriek like a demon of Hell set loose, and grinned. Rogue had gotten pissed. Her tiny figure powered skyward, straight toward one of the Sentinels. Laser blasts tracked her, both from the giant machine, and from ground emplacements at its feet. She jigged with the skill of a fighter pilot, evading the beams, and struck the Sentinel directly in the face. The head exploded. A moment later, Rogue emerged from the flames, trailing them harmlessly in her wake.

The Sentinel remained upright and continued to fire. It would take more than that to bring it down, but Rogue had seriously hampered its ground-tracking and fire coordination capabilities, much of whose hardware was necessarily located in the head.

A second airborne form was diving and whirling around the other Sentinel. His metallic wings gleamed in the morning sun. With each pass around the giant machine, he loosed another round of flechettes towards shoulders, elbows or knees. The tiny metal particles were nearly unbreakable, and would eventually freeze some of the robot’s joints.

The rest of the X-Men, Bishop could only assume, were out in the haze taking the fight to the Hounds. Wolverine, Jubilee, Forge and Skin worked best in hand-to-hand situations. Jean continually shifted the allowed range-of-fire schematic in his head, which kept him from accidentally firing on his own. She would also be coordinating with the other X-Men, keeping them apprised of their own allowable attack vectors. It was an intense task that took nearly all of her attention, but it gave the X-Men an advantage that even the Sentinels’ technology couldn’t match.

Rogue came screaming down out of the sky on a curving trajectory that Bishop knew from experience would bring her across the Sentinel’s path at knee level. Laser fire tracked her, and this time, connected. She staggered, rolling away from the beams and nosing groundward. Bishop drew in his breath. She wasn’t going to be able to pull away in time. The Sentinel’s giant hand swung around and swatted her out of the sky. Dirt exploded twenty feet into the air where she hit.

Status? Bishop asked Jean through her telepathic link to him.

Unconscious, at least, was the terse reply.

Bishop pushed concern out of his mind. They had to survive, first. Relay to Forge, he told Jean. Can you take out the ground emplacements?

Jubilee’s about got one wrapped up. We can take at least one more. Jean somehow managed to convey the sense of Forge pausing to shoot a Hound that had come up on him. The other one is too well protected. We’d have to lure the Sentinel away.

Think you could manage that?

No. They know the routine. We’re going to have to switch strat-- Jean was close enough to throw Bishop an alarmed look as the mental voice abruptly cut off.

Forge! What happened? Forge? Bishop switched targets. Wolverine!

Better dig in, came the gravelly reply. Logan was reassuringly calm, no matter what was going on around him. It was a trait that Bishop had come to depend on. The Lady herself’s got a lock on us. She’s bringin’ two more Sentinels and a Big Bug. He paused. Looks like she means ta make it permanent.

Bishop looked toward the sky. Through the haze, he could barely make out the specks Wolverine had identified. The Big Bug was a troop transport. It would be full of Hounds. Probably a cadre of Wolfhounds as well, which was the common slang for the Shadow King’s elite. Stupid name, Bishop had always thought, but for some reason, it had stuck. The skyborn figures grew rapidly. The Sentinels turned to land feet-first on either side of the two already in position, and the ground jumped as they cut their thrusters and dropped the last few feet. The Big Bug settled behind the wall of armored giants with a roar and a funnel of dust kicked up by the engines. Above, a small form hovered, watching. The Shadow Queen had come to command the battle. As Wolverine had said, she meant to make it permanent.

Bishop took stock of his small band. They were down to six, if Rogue and Forge were out. He felt despair threatening to close his lungs, shut down his mind. He tried to will it away. What could they do? There was nowhere to retreat to. This little inn sat in the middle of a valley well up in the Cascades. The mountains ringed them like a protective shield, but the valley itself was clear. They would have no cover and the Sentinels would cut them down. His X-Men were only surviving because they were literally climbing around at the feet of the Sentinels, which hampered the machines’ ability to lock onto them.

Bishop pushed his dark thoughts away and focused on the battle at hand. The second Sentinel appeared to have lost the use of one shoulder joint. It continued to fire with that hand laser, but the arm was frozen out in front of the gray body, its fire mostly ineffective.

Bishop concentrated his fire on the first rank of Hounds emerging from the Bug. His weapon was useless against the Sentinel’s armor, but could do plenty of damage to the poorly protected Hounds. He felt sorry for them, though that didn’t keep him from killing them. They had been human once. And all they really were was cannon fodder. The true military might of the Shadow King was in his Sentinel and Armored Infantry technologies. Bishop had always been a student of war, and he was often amazed by how much the Shadow King had accomplished with brute force alone. He was not much of a strategist, and had, in fact, made several fatal errors in the course of his conquests. That was probably the only reason the X-Men were still alive, Bishop reflected sourly.

Jean shifted his attack vectors abruptly and he was forced to leap down from the remainder of the building in order to continue firing. Jean hovered behind him, her telekinetic shield crackling. It absorbed a tremendous amount of energy as the Sentinels poured fire down on them, but that was part of its purpose. The more firepower they wasted on the shield, the less could be spent against the X-Men.

Bishop settled into a new position behind the remains of a fallen cedar. He could feel the heat emanating from the ground as the earth began to give up the energy from the laser barrage that it could no longer absorb. Nothing would grow in this valley for years.

A thunderous chorus of sonic booms made Bishop look up. A squadron of fighters streaked by overhead. The trailing two launched missiles at the Sentinels as they passed, and Bishop voiced a ragged cheer.

The squadron leader’s voice came to him via Jean. Hope we’re not too late to join the party! He sounded like he was arriving at a picnic rather than a war. But that was how pilots talked. As did X-Men.

Never, Bishop responded, hoping he didn’t sound desperate. Where’d you come from? He turned his attention back to the ground, depending on Jean to help him keep the ground activity and his conversation with the pilots separate.

U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, came the proud reply. Just hang on, folks. We’re the scouts. The cavalry’s about ten minutes behind us.

Through Jean, Bishop was aware as the fighters split up and began weaving and dodging among the thirty story robots in pairs. Just barely, Bishop was beginning to think they might live through the day. Though the Queen had yet to do anything. As was her wont, she waited above the battlefield to see how the tide would turn. Two of the fighters made a run at her, missiles twisting around their flight paths like panicked snakes. The Queen blew them out of the sky with hardly a glance.

Bishop shook his head and concentrated on his job. The X-Men were holding on—Jean hadn’t reported any more casualties, which Bishop was immensely grateful for. Then, in the middle of the area ringed by Sentinels on one side, the ruined inn on the other, and filled with the swirling madness of attacking Hounds, a glowing doorway suddenly opened in the air. It was faintly blue, and appeared to simply float there.

What is that? he asked Jean, but he could feel her confusion. The Hounds, too, watched it uncertainly. Those nearest edged away as best they could. Between the X-Men who attacked them and the iron commands of their Queen, they had little room to maneuver.

Well, at least it isn’t Hers. Jean didn’t need to say who She was. And she never would. By unspoken accord, the X-Men refused to call the Shadow Queen by name.

As they watched, four forms tumbled through the blue doorway to sprawl on the ground. Bishop’s heart froze. Not only were they human, but they appeared to be children.


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