A Time For Everything
Author's Disclaimer:All characters belong to Marvel Comics. They are used here not for profit.
CFAN Disclaimer: What you are about to read is not one single story but, rather, an arc of four short stories linked in an unusual manner... I won't say more. Time to meet four X-Men as they once were...
A Time To Be Born
There was, in the shallow valley below her, beyond a thick wall of ancient trees and shrubbery which had stood there since time immemorial, a snake of fire. Its great body was made of blazing torches, brandished by an angry crowd whose cries for blood could be heard even farther than the flames could be seen. She did not allow herself a glance behind at this frightening scene; she neither had the physical strength nor the courage to do so. If she were to stop, even for a moment, they would gain on her too great a distance, and she would not be able to continue her uphill trek if her mind was taken off the simple task of left foot forward, right foot forward.
Behind her, then, was this serpentine mob, and before her only a great darkness. It did not go unnoticed that the dark and not the light offered her safety. Her breath grew shorter, her steps heavier, and the infant she carried screamed for her to stop, its tiny tail wrapping around one of her arms. She did not offer it comfort, she did not turn her thoughts toward it at all. For the moment, it was only a half-forgotten instinct which compelled her to hold on to the child at all, and not drop it into the bushes she passed.
The darkness did not favor her for long. It hid from her until it was too late to turn the great cliffs and waterfall ahead, until its roar filled her ears, as chilling as the shouts for her murder a stone's throw away. She broke from the treeline, and the cool air of the foaming water swirled about her as the goosebumps rose all over her body. The villagers were nearly in sight now; she could single out the leader's voice from the others.
The baby waved his arms and feet, wailing louder when she placed a hand over its mouth. She looked down at it, into its yellow eyes, and she knew what she would have to do if either of them would come out of this alive. "You should never have been born," she told him. "And because of what you are, you will wish you never had been. But my hopes are with you."
She wrapped his blanket tightly around him, and then, without further ceremony, she tossed him over the cliff. She turned, and as she did so, her form shifted, the features of her face and body becoming larger, blunter, uglier, until she no longer resembled the aristocratic woman she was, but a man as crude and plain as those who pursued her.
They came moments later, fire at their fingertips. Their leader alone was on a horse, some age-old pistol at his side. "Where is the witch?" he called out.
The mother twisted her face into a gruesome, twisted smile. "Tossed her over the cliff, I did," said she. There were muffled cheers from within the mob.
"I will see this for myself." The leader dismounted and strode forward. For quite some time he stood at the cliff's edge, but in the dark it would be impossible to see much.
"The witch is dead, and with her, the demon-child," insisted the "peasant." He did not catch the glint of hate in her eyes, or the tinge of an accent which edged her voice. Count Darkholme was no less ignorant than the people outside his castle, for all his wealth and dashing looks. He had, after all, been the one to raise this rag-tag army against his own wife and newborn, blue-furred child.
"Most excellent," he said. With this, he took to his steed again, and rode away. The others, their bloodlust gone unquenched, dissipated after much grumbling. None noticed that their hero of the night did not move with them.
"He" cast a last glance into the waters below, a prayer to a God she had never known spilling out. "Good luck, child," she said, and then fled, knowing that questions would be asked in the coming daylight which she did not wish to help answer.
A Time To Die
In the crash's wake, there was nearly nothing left alive. The building had been shattered, tiles and smashed wood lying several meters away from where they had once been solid walls. From under cracked panes of glass reached bloody hands, which rigor mortis had caught during their struggle to find light. It was a sickening sight, and it made the sole survivor of the crash sick.
She ran from one end of the wreckage to the other, managing to slip past the hands which grabbed for her. They didn't understand. She wanted her mama.
At last, someone got a hold of her arm and pulled her away.
"There now," he said to her. But she wouldn't stop crying, wailing for her mother, her father, anyone familiar. From the moment the firemen had pulled her huddled figure from the rubble, a wretch torn with claustrophobia and the deprivation from her parents, she had wailed. Finally, she was passed on to a woman she didn't know, who tried to comfort her, but failed miserably.
"Everything will be all right," she was told.
The little girl screamed at them, "It is not all right!" The woman couldn't argue, only take little Ororo into her arms and carry her somewhere else.
They gave her things to eat, which she didn't touch, and things to drink, which she tossed over in her confused rage. "I want my momma!" she insisted.
"Your mother can't come," a cold-hearted man finally said to her. "Your mother is dead."
The girl fell silent. Dead?
She stopped crying, though she still had a trace of the sniffles. Dead. She hadn't known that term before...not its real meaning, anyhow. Dead.
"That was cruel," the woman snapped at the man who had said it. He turned and walked away. "Darling, your parents are fine, they're in..."
"They're dead," Ororo said. "The Goddess took them away from me."
The adults said nothing more.
"But why? Why did she take them?"
Her question remained unanswered.
"Come, child," the woman said. "Let's go."
A Time To Kill
"Forget the girl," Murdoc shouted. "Just shoot!"
Bishop's trigger finger tensed as he raised his gun again, his aim shaky. His target was moving away rapidly.
He shot. The weapon's scarlet energy missiles rang out with such force that the young man nearly fell back. From behind him, he could hear Murdoc's voice, half cheering, half scolding. "Get up, boy! Move! There's more up ahead!"
He shook off whatever emotion might have crossed his mind, and straightened himself into his familiar soldier's stance. His target lay in a heap down the hall, a limb -- from this distance, Bishop couldn't tell precisely which one -- dismembered, and still spasming a few feet away from its bloody stump. Above the corpse hovered the gaunt figure of a woman. He grimaced.
"Get over it," someone grumbled. Another had gone off to grab the girl before she could become trouble.
There were nine of them, XSE trainees sent to learn to do their job by becoming so soaked in blood and gore that the organization's extreme measures simply didn't bother them anymore. It could make the hardest of men crack, the toughest of women cry. And it was hurtling the impassive Bishop into a world of emotional chaos. The effect wasn't necessarily mutual.
The home they came through had been built by a rebel organization -- bad people, Bishop had to remind himself -- who had killed even more ruthlessly than the Enforcers were punishing them for it. But it was hard to connect the terrorist who had filled an orphanage with nerve gas and the children who had been skipping rope in the dirt yard when Murdoc's trainees had arrived.
Nevertheless, duty was duty. That had been drilled into his mind, his very soul, since the day he was born.
He was ordered on towards a cellar. As a teammate threw open the door, he poked his gun into the dark opening, and then descended down the stairs, into a dry space so dusty he nearly choked. He felt along the wall until he found a primitive light switch, which didn't work the first time. He flipped it again, and a dull lamp fizzled and cracked until vague shapes could be defined to eyesight. "Lookie here," Murdoc said, crouching down.
There were containers everywhere, some big barrels and others skinny boxes. Each was marked with symbols of radiation or poison, danger warnings lettered flamboyantly on the lids and the sides. Someone gasped. "Get Kelly and his crew down here. Have all this taken to headquarters. And somebody get a few snapshots in."
There was a whimper from a dim corner, and every weapon in the place was aimed in the direction it had come from. It heightened into a howl, and then a scream. Murdoc jumped out and grabbed the source by the arm, dragging it into the light.
It was the most pitiful child any of them had ever seen, a scrawny boy not five years of age, dressed in nothing but raggedy pants, coated with dirt from bald head to four-toed feet. One of his eyes was centered in his cheek; an ear was missing. "No...!" he screeched.
Murdoc cursed, and quickly lowered his gun to the boy's forehead. "You'd thank me, kid," he said.
"Are you insane?!" Bishop burst out, reflexively knocking the gun away and jumping between the officer and the child.
"Stand back," Murdoc scowled.
"No, sir! Take him back to the city. What's the use in killing him?"
"He'd be scarred for life. Turn to crime. Get out of the way."
"Don't do this."
"Don't you dare stop me."
The gun was pointed to the boy again. Bishop bit his tongue, and pulled back his arm.
Murdoc fell. The soldier picked the boy up, and slung him over his shoulder -- much to the child's protest. The others only watched as he walked out.
A Time To Heal
They scream. They whisper. They whimper. They cheer. They choke. They curse. They pray. They give in. They give out. They hold on. They give up. They live. They die. Hundreds, thousands of them, all going on with life as usual, with all its intricate paradoxes. Some call out for more, some reach for less. It's all relative to who they are. It all depends on weakness and strength, faith and apostasy, hate and love, life and death.
No matter; it's all the same to her. Every voice which invades her vulnerable mind is an enemy, but she doesn't have the strength to force them out. So she sits here, in the pillowed chair somebody has set her in, and stares at the wall across from her. If someone is standing next to her and speaking, their words are lost in the sea which has already caught her in its powerful undertow. If someone is lifting food to her mouth, she doesn't see it. If somebody is touching her, she doesn't feel it. She can't -- she's trapped in a hundred other lives...a hundred other circumstances...a hundred other minds.
And then someone cuts through. A lifeguard swimming in the waves towards her. Jean.
She can't answer. She's experiencing somebody's funeral, through the thoughts of his sister.
Jean, I'm here to help.
She can't see the coffin, but she knows it's mahogany, it's covered in Stars and Stripes, it's laying somewhere on the other side of the state.
Jean, I'm Professor Xavier. I'm going to stop these voices.
The body is being lowered into the open grave, and flowers are being tossed in...white lilies.
A shovel pitches in dirt. Someone wails.
"Jean!" Her parents' voices...she hasn't heard them for an eternity. She looks up. They stand nearby: her mother with hands clasped, and tears in her eyes; her father with a broad grin. Beside them is a bald man in a wheelchair, fingers steepled beneath his chin as though he is in deep contemplation. He isn't, though. He's calling to her. In her mind.
Jean, he says, *You have nothing to fear. It's over. And I will not allow you to experience anything like that again.*
She closes her eyes, and a tear seeps out. There is nothing left in her head now, except herself.
HTML on this story done by Kielle, edited by Alara Rogers