Purification
Roleplaying Log: Purification
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

To save one of their own, a team of X-Men face an old enemy who is up to some new tricks. Assorted Purifiers emitted by Angel and Dazzler.

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: February 09, 2019
IC Location: Ossining, New York
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 10 Feb 2019 07:25
Rating & Warnings: R for violencing.
NPC & GM Credits: Purifiers run by Angel and Dazzler
Associated Plots

The town of Ossining, New York is like many others that sit along the Hudson River, other than perhaps having the distinction of being the location of the maximum-security prison known as Sing Sing: a distinction which does not factor into this particular story. What does factor into this particular story is Ossining's close proximity to the city, which makes it an appealing location for young startups who don't want to pay city rent but like city resources close.

One such company, Alternative Air Labs, has set up shop a little outside Ossining, north of the town where it borders on the Croton River. Recently acquired by Worthington Industries, it's a new name in the field of alternative aviation fuels, and it's now struggling a bit because after Warren Worthington 'came out' in public, it's been getting some negative attention from anti-mutant elements.

So just days ago, Cameron Hodge, appointed CEO of Worthington Industries and one of Warren's oldest and best friends, suggested Warren should maybe stop out at the place for morale's sake. Simple business, really: just a visit to shore up morale and to make sure that security's properly taking care of the occasional picket lines. Warren didn't think to alert anyone or even bring it up in conversation — he has paid a thousand calls like this in the past. It seemed like personal business to him. Just part and parcel of watching over his business and his people.

And yet today, he doesn't meet Alison at six as he promised. No explanation for the failure nor response to calls and texts, either, which is unlike him.

Worst of all — any kind of psychic probe in his direction will yield the distinct red flag of an unresponsive mind.

Ossining is no more than half an hour from the Institute, at least, which makes travel convenient for those on hand. The labs are dark when people arrive, the main building cordoned off with signs warning of a hazardous chemical spill within. Must be why there's no workers on site. Behind the buildings, though, at the back of the property where it slopes gently downwards towards the water, there's certainly… something going on.

Signs of life ping in the senses of those equipped to detect them, life signs that ring angry and hard and sharp. Some ring with pain, too, the dull ache that signifies bruises and broken bones.


It was supposed to be a date.

There's been a deluge of appointments in the past months of their slowly-forming foundation, all comfortable, all business, and all Warren Worthington and Alison Blaire working closely together… and only recently have the nature of those get-togethers crossed over from the ream of Professional to now a Something Else.

Truth be told, whatever it is — she's not too sure — it's brand new, and made to answer the question that Alison knows all too well: in the end, she knows little-to-nothing about Warren.

That is, save for two universal facts. One, he is pathologically punctual. Two, if she does end up in a very official Something Else with him, Alison will always have to be resigned that she'll be part of an intimate polyamory with his phone. He never goes anywhere without it.

So when the time of appointment comes and goes, Alison finds it odd but grants it little mind. He's ridiculously busy, and she's never been a demanding personality. After about fifteen, she shoots him a text.

After about twenty-five, she tries to call.

Nothing back. Time goes by, and she knows enough little would stop him from cursory checks of the screens in his life; some people would shrug this off, but Alison Blaire, sometimes-stalked and frequenty-kidnapped into all kinds of nonsense, knows better.

Somewhere in Manhattan, she's already on the phone to Warren's assistant, Kiff, begging help to get his itinerary. She shoots a quick group text to Jean and Rachel:

Can't reach Warren. Can you feel he's OK?


Lucky for Alison, Rachel is another person who is rarely without her phone. Not always on it, maybe, but she's technically a generation ahead from everyone because she's from the future, so she qualifies for Those Damn Kids.

Alison also gets the Excalibur fast pass to Phoenix service. It comes in handy. Buy-in price is only one super awkward dimensional adventure.

<phoenix_EX> sure
<phoenix_EX> one sec

Rachel is, at the moment, sprawled across her bed in the X-Mansion. It's not really her bed, but she can't remember the last time any bed felt like that. She tosses her phone aside — it travels a few feet before stopping midair — and closes her eyes so that she can concentrate.

Her mind sprawls out across the grounds. Across Salem. Through the city, where she pauses to process, and then through the state. Finding one person takes much less attention than trying to understand everything she feels. Not Warren? Move on. Moments pass.

There.

Rachel reaches for her floating phone. She hesitates, fingers still curled inward. The shape of the feeling becomes clear to her. It's not normal.

The redhead (ver. edgier) sits up sharply. Telekinetics dance across her phone to send back a message even as she hurries to the door. Molecular TK is handy for mimicking fingers on a screen, with enough practice. Another thing molecular TK is handy for is making her spiky red battlesuit shimmer onto her body as she runs down the hall.

<phoenix_EX> he's unconscious. happened recently. some place called ossining. alternative air labs. omw.

Rachel leaps over the bannister overlooking the first floor, floats down to the front door, and pushes past a few faculty members onto the front walk where she catches flame and explodes into the sky.

The people she barged through stare after her. They continue to stare as her phone whizzes by to catch up.

During flight, Rachel reaches out for Jean. Though the two are still coming to terms with one another, she expects the other woman has the same thought to form a psi-link. Her thoughts travel across the increasing distance.

«I'm going fast. Do you feel something weird there? It's like the place got raided — okay, no, I'm picking up a few people left. Can you round up a team?»


THE BLACKBIRD
SOME TIME AGO

"I…can't help but wonder, sometimes, what he'd teach us now. If he ever even saw 'now' coming," Jean slowly utters as contemplation shades her features. "We've worked with them our whole lives, even if it meant hiding who we are. Binding ourselves." Green eyes pointedly shift towards the majestic plumage - and the man attached to it - on the other side of the Blackbird's cockpit. "Making ourselves small, for them… and the closest they get to working with us is free money to bend over backwards for them."

"I don't know," Angel confesses, folding his arms across his chest. The cadence of his voice is slow, but solid. "Most of me thinks he wouldn't teach us any different than he always has. He taught us a moral code, a set of beliefs… not behaviors to only be used for a certain time and place."

He hesitates.

"But then again… there's part of me, too, that wonders if he ever thought it would get this bad." His wings twitch under her pointed gaze, knowing why, their feathers bridling slightly under the remembered pain of the harness and strap. "And it is bad. Being able to have these out all the time, now, just makes me think back on all the years I spent binding them down to look how they wanted me to. All that… and this is what we've got to show for it, at the end?"

He closes his blue eyes.

"Still, we can't give up quite yet. For all the things I don't know, I do know that's not what he would have wanted."

SALEM CENTER
NOW

Jean doesn't live at the Institute, but she did for years. She thinks of it as her home away from Annandale-on-Hudson; the Professor, a mentor and guardian as close to her as any kin.

Sometimes, she borrows things from home, as people who've left the nest but not the need for its comforts do.

<phoenix_alpha> hold on; let me page him.

Her fingers leave a steering wheel wrapped in deep navy and gold leather to touch her temples. Grinning thoughts of swirling feathers and swarming fangirls desperate for a little attention from the hottest commodity in Westchester County stretch across astral miles—

She makes herself wait three seconds before reaching for her phone. By then, there's white smoke's curling out from under her bright aqua minivan but the tips of her hair aren't on fire anymore.

It's something.

«I was doing a shift, so medium-fast. Who's on— oh— okay…»

<phoenix_alpha> omw to the mansion

The text comes with a question and an imperative in one; the text is just for Dazzler, but the rest touches minds throughout the Institute:

Warren is in danger; will you be ready when I get there?

A nebulous timetable, but anyone who's willing to work with it gets a psychic pin to tell them that…

THE XAVIER INSTITUTE
A COUPLE MINUTES LATER

… they won't have to wait for all that long before one of the Institute's field trip vans roars into place near the mansion's front doors, leaving smoke and scorch marks in its wildly drifting wake.

«Everyone who's coming to Ossining,» Phoenix (ver. softer) pshouts into the link she's been building between ready(ing) volunteers, «into the van!»

The doors are already sliding open. The van slows, but doesn't stop; it will do circuts around the driveway over stopping.

«Let's GO! We've got an ass to save!»

The wheels may be more psychokinetic flame than rubber, there might be wings flickering in and out of being along the vehicles flanks, and - yes - that is an alarming amount of smoke pouring out from the undercarriage—

— but there are candies and phone charging stations strategically positioned throughout the van, for the team's comfort.

Once everyone's loaded, it'll be much less than half an hour to Ossining by X-Van.


('TIPS NOT INCLUDED,' the laminated sign hanging from the glove box notes, 'BUT THEY ARE APPRECIATED :D')


Rogue pushes out from her project car as soon as Jean's call rings through the mansion. She shoves her wrench into her coverall and grabs a green hoodie, along with the X-jacket she commandeered, the brown thing with all the patches removed, so there's nothing but frayed threads outlining where the X's were once.

She hops right into the van and settles into the back.

Oooh, ass saving candy. Rogue will have one of those, thank you very much.

"All I need to know, sugar," she drawls up to Jean, "is this. Is the ass at all cute?"

She also leaves a tip. Of course, cash isn't really something she holds on to for any length of time, so the tip comes in the form of a fortune cookie fortune. It reads:

'Do not eat snow. Eating snow is bad for you.'


While in the past years Moonstar has kept her presence minimal within the X-Mansion, lately, like the last few weeks, she's found herself pulled back to these hallowed halls.

It's a combination of things, worry for what's happening in the world at large, anxiety for SHIELD and all its ills, and of course, the reappearance of certain members once thought lost.

She's mainly loitering around the Mansion, idly haunting the hallways, lost in thought. Up until the psychic call out from Jean Grey is heard.

It brings Moonstar's head up and causes her to straighten her back. She throws back to the psychic ethers, » I'm in. «

While the sight of the van isn't necessarily shocking, she still gives it a quick look, before she packs herself right on in the van. A quiver of arrows and her bow are strapped to her back and as soon as the Cheyenne is in, she says, "Good to go."

When settled a look is turned to Rogue in aa general 'hello'. Cause you know politeness. Gotta have it.


One gets used to telepaths suddenly informing you of great peril, either coming your way or currently being inflicted upon someone in need. Piotr instinctively drops the piece of charcoal in his hand and stands up. It takes him mere moments to get dressed into something more battle ready than his too snug sweatpants with Xavier's emblazzoned across the backside, though to be fair his uniform is hardly more modest.

Politely excusing himself as he ducks into the van, he does his best to wedge in, but really is far too large for most vehicles, let alone the backseats that are meant more for children or smalled adults. Sitting awkwardly with his shoulders curled in, he carefully reaches out to pluck a candy as well.

"Is this a known butt? Or new butt?"


Though Kitty Pryde splits her time between the Mansion and the Guardians, she is at the Institute now. Grabbing for her Shadowcat suit, she quickly changes, tumbling onto the floor once as an arm gets stuck in the wrong place and her leg is awkwardly caught. However, with as much dignity as a woman who just shoved herself into a superhero costume and grabbed a weapon and a purple dragon can muster, she heads out to the lawn.

As she does so, she rubs at her elbow where she barked it particularly hard against the floor. Lockheed gives low voiced concern about her injury that she waves off. "I'm fine, I'm fine."

By the time their PhoenixVan has arrived, she's ready to go and does not even look surprised at Jean's vehicle. "Ossining?" Her head tilts. "Are we getting someone out of Sing Sing?"

Arranging herself, her sword and her dragon into the van, she can't help but consider this a field X-Men field trip, or perhaps a soccer team going to their next away game.


The surprise interruption of a mission is normally the kind of thing Laura lives for; this is a young lady who thinks Scott's old mission plans and debriefing files are fascinating bedtime reading, after all. Wanted by a dozen government agencies, she doesn't have much of a normal life to interrupt, either, the Institute as much as a sort of place of sanctuary for her as one of learning.

And yet… she's not home when the call goes out.

« I am available, but I am not on the premises. I will arrive in approximately four minutes and forty-three seconds. »

As the Phoenix MomVan circles the driveway, X-23 is not among any of those X-folk rushing from the building or otherwise making sudden appearances. If we take the rough estimate that the van was ready to roll out in just under five minutes flat, there will still be no sight of her when the vehicle first roars into the driveway, circling around without actually stopping to pick up passengers.

The van will make it all the way around and back to the driveway out, with still no sight of the mini-Wolverine…

… until it almost hits her as it makes its way back out onto the road.

Almost!

Evidently, she comes running out of some bushes, leaps, possibly rolls over the top of the vehicle (by the sound of a few rough bumps and thumps on the roof) and then swings down through the back right before the doors close.

She comes in at 2:40 even.

"Sorry. We were out on the grounds."

'We' is probably her and 'dad.' They do a lot of parent-child bonding in the woods, although it's probably less charming than it sounds and more harsh survival exercises and training scenarios where one of them genuinely tries but ultimately fails to kill the other and then they bond about it. Family.


MEANWHILE, IN OSSINING, DOWN THE ROAD FROM THE RADIOSHACK

Rachel Summers is a fiery beacon fixed in the sky above the Alternative Air complex. With an expression hidden by shadow save for burning-white eyes and slashmarks to frame her face, she looks down upon a puzzle that she cannot yet touch. Her instincts tell her to rush in — to do everything she can before it's too late, because it's always too late — but the new Rachel has had a few blessed years of teamwork to steady her. It would be a betrayal to Alison to move too soon, and the others will help make sure this goes right.

Still. It doesn't hurt to look.

«Decent crew,» Rachel transmits back on the psi-link.

(«I had just opened a LaCroix,» she privately complains to Kitty, because Meggan isn't here.)

«The main building up front is closed off for some kind of spill…» Images flash across the psi-link for those prepared to receive them. Not everyone has a great connection. «…but I sense people in the back. They're hurt, but I don't feel any fatal wounds. You can pull around if you open the gate.»


"It's pretty cute," Jean replies while the fortune flits up before her eyes, then tucks itself into her sash, "and it pays for all of our stuff, so I'm kind of partial to it. That and the— y'know, the, the growing up together. The teamwork…"

Jean's hands are locked around the steering wheel. A subtle echo of dread gives the link - not just her thoughts, any thoughts shared in the conference room her consciousness has formed - a dull blue chill. The joke stops being funny - to whatever extent it really could've been, considering - in pretty short order.

"Warren was supposed to be in contact with Alison tonight," she quietly murmurs a moment after tailing off, "but he hasn't been, and she can't reach him. Rachel and I have his signature in Ossining, at a place called Alternative Air Labs, but he's unconscious. Something— happened? We're going to find out what SHIT!"

ALMOST!

Jean is concentrating on the link and keeping her thoughts to herself. The skulking mini-Wolverine readily eludes her notice until she's there, in driveway Jean's still diligently doing donuts around, way too close for a van powered by steel resolve and fear to brake in time. But: 'Almost'.

The PhoeniX-Van barrel rolls away from the leaping Laura. Fire swirls around its chassis while magenta sparks flood its insides like cushioning gel— just in case anyone forgot their seatbelts.

"Jesus," Jean softly exhales once all four wheels are on the ground again. "That's alright!" she calls out to Laura, then. "Sorry!" she offers the rest of the team.

"(all the stuff about Warren, minus the stuff about Warren's ass)," comes next while Laura boards.

"Buckle up," she warns, far too late.

The rest of the ride from Westchester to Ossining won't be a bumpy one, but it'll be fast— if not quite fast enough to leave scorch marks. A telepathic cloak gives them some privacy as they race into town, but even with it in place, she brings them down to human/natural legal limits so they can creep through a gate that's just waiting to be opened.


Rogue tips one gloved hand in salute towards Moonstar, stretching out her long legs in the back seat. She has a smudge of grease upon the very tip of her button nose, and she chose a Dum Dum Sucker, which means the stem is now hanging out of her mouth a little like a cigarette might hang out of someone else's. She's got the hood her hoodie pulled up. Next to all these others in their uniform, she looks thoroughly disreputable.

When Jean explains, despite the general inappropriateness, and the fact that it isn't really funny, and the fact that it sounds highly terrible on a number of levels, she muses, "Huh. So, about a 7.4 then."

Look, some people cope by being really serious. Focused. Totally in the emotional moment.

Others just go straight to drawling out the truly terrible humor.


Alison Blaire is notably (fortunately) absent from Ms. Grey's Wild Ride.

At the time of the first text, she's not even near the Institute. Trapped in the busy heart of Manhattan, waiting at Worthington Industries' headquarters where she anticipated meeting Warren Worthington, himself, only minutes ago.

'Photonic flight is theoretically possible,' McCoy had nerd-talked at her years ago, when Alison was younger, impatient, and really not caring what half the words even meant. 'However, it may not be empirically testable for you to achieve flight without — ah — exciting you past a threshold that would have your mitochondria forcibly exit your cells. That would cause death, Miss Blaire. However, perhaps someday —'

Someday isn't good enough. It'd be really nice to be able to fly by shitting light right now.

Fortunately, Alison has options. First of which, is Warren's personal assistant, Kiff, among her contacts. He doesn't need much convincing, especially when two of the world's most powerful psychics attest that something wrong is happening.

"I have no idea why he bought this," Kiff remarks long-sufferingly, about ten minutes later, from the pilot's seat of a WORTHINGTON helicopter. But it's a good thing they have it.

It gets Alison to Ossining in fifteen minutes. She keeps the team updated. It's nice to have money.

The hardest part is landing, but there's enough field within the boundaries of the town to find a landing. Alison, with her last dying breath, promises Kiff if she sees him even near whatever's happening, she'll personally put a rainbow up his ass. He seems to appreciate the concern, and waits on a concerned stand-by. A way out, if needed.

The text comes to both Greys in follow-up

<Alibulb> I'm here on foot. Will meet up.

When Alison Blaire does arrive, she looks anything but dressed for combat, no time to do anything — not even time to lose her high heels. Her harried expression explains why.


Kitty has been with the Guardians long enough that Jean's driving actually does not effect her much. In fact, this seems almost normal. What does that mean for her own tolerance for insanity is something to be determined. At least this fast drive to Ossining isn't happening in space. For that alone, it's less scary than being in the Milano while Rocket is driving.

In the back, she grabs onto her katana while Lockheed still perches on her shoulder, though there's a faint quirk of a grin as she gets Rachel's psi-link bemoaning.

(«You know we have cases of those in the basement, right? We'll grab you another. Hell, if everything goes right, I'll grab a bottle of some space liquor that I apparently bought on New Year's and we'll see how that reacts to the pamplemousse flavor.»)
'


Piotr solemnly gives a half head tilt and nod in agreement that Warren does in fact have a cute ass. Granted he is also agreeing about the paying for things, being a good teammate, etc. but definitely started nodding a little soon on that one. He glances out over the landscape and wonders why he feels more queasy flying in a mini-van than in the plane. He thinks it's probably the fact that every part of his body is touching a part of the van or another person.

«Perhaps you could just drop me off here?»

Piotr eyes the door handle, wondering if that's a bad idea. Right now it feels like a good idea.


If there are any ill results of the high-speed boarding or subsequent bumpy ride, Laura doesn't complain - not outwardly, or internally - nor show much sign of them by the time she's situated. Indeed, for all the panic-y, rushed mental energy of the group, shared across the link from Rachel to Jean and perhaps then on to the rest of them, she's dead calm. Her only stray thought is some fleeting image of an plump yet deceptively swift rodent (a marmot? groundhog? is a groundhog just a time of marmot?) dissapearing into some underbrush, and with it a lingering sense of frustration.

So, apart from Warren, Jean's intervention may also have saved the life of one (1) innocent and cuddly forest creature.

With her exact future on the group something still of a question mark itself, she also lacks official costume-age. Her outfit amounts to the usual snug black affair, although her arms and even parts of her face are covered with dirty smudges and she smells vaguely of river water.

"Hello."

That's also as much as she has to say to everyone, by way of greeting. So… dirty, smelly, terse, and dreaming of murdering forest creatures. Altogether, a charming road trip companion!

"Do we have schematics on the target facility?" Ah, back the Scott Summers (aka her hero) school of operational planning. She may be looking at Kitty as she asks. Presumably, she's memorized everyone's files and thus turns to the tech-whiz for this.


«Ali did you steal a helicopter?» Rachel sends toward her. She's still hovering over the compound, and will continue to do so until the gang arrives.

(Meanwhile, on the secret CatteBirb channel: «Okay, I guess having a space boyfriend comes with some perks. I'm sorry for calling him a charity case.»)

The people arriving toward the back of the facility will be treated to, if they are early enough, the sight of a fiery-winged cosmic goddess typing on her phone with her thumbs.

Rachel looks up as the van nears. After shunting her phone into astral space for storage (don't worry about it), she floats down and alights upon the ground. Her burning radiance dissipates, the shadows withdrawing from her face to leave an ordinary woman in a spiked battlesuit. Ordinary as far as women in spiked battlesuits go. Okay, maybe not as far as them either.

«I've been getting a feel for the building, but…»


There's something to be said for telepaths and telekinetics and seat belts.

Definitely seat belts.

Still, when Laura makes her way into the van, the Cheyenne can't quite stop a look being sent the clone's way. Then with a resoluteness Moonstar pulls her attention off of Laura and back onto the situation at hand.

Though Laura's question does bring Moonstar's attention back over to her and here, Moonstar has to agree with the other woman. It'd be nice to have schematics.

"Not sure, but we have some eyes in the sky." And psychically, "So, not completely blind."


The PhoeniX-Van meets no resistance as it creeps through the gate and across the quiet grounds, past the building and towards the back of the property. It's deserted of all its personnel the entire way; a scan of the buildings yields no sign of life. The only activity is outside, in the rear of the grounds, towards the river.

Rachel senses at least twenty-three men and women present other than Warren, though there's an — an interference in the psionic currents that makes it hard to get an easy grip on those minds. That inteference mixes the sensations up into a slurry of familiar zealotry, violence, fear, and hatred. The zealotry, in particular, is so thick as to taste like Communion wine, sour in the mouth.

It strengthens as people draw closer, whether they do so in the van or abandon the vehicle to proceed on foot. There's a certain sickening feeling that starts to reverberate through the brain, as an approach is made down to the small stand of alder trees that stands darkly by the shore of the Croton River. It is most strongly felt by the psychics as a persistent gnawing static which chews on their senses, bordering on painful and certainly well over the border into distracting. Non-psychics may feel it too, though much more dimly as a deep reptile-brain unease.

There are many humans here, but there is also something not quite human.

The source is not readily visible. But something else, visually striking in the dark, is an immediate draw for the eyes; the increasing number of white feathers strewn across the ground, scattered around the edge of that copse of trees. The disturbed earth, studded with those broken feathers, calls to mind the thrashing fight of a large bird.

At the terminus of this trail, ringed in a rough circle, is a largely silent group of the aforementioned men and women, shrouded in robes and lowered hoods that obscure away their features into a faceless uniformity. To a one, they are all heavily armed, carrying automatic weapons. At their center is the tallest of the alder trees, and from the branches of that tree is hung a familiar figure, pale in the dark.

Strung up by the pinions of his white wings, with nothing to support him except the rope knotted about his flight feathers and thrown over a high branch, Warren Worthington hangs unconscious. He isn't hung high, though — he's quite within reach of the people on the ground.

The reason becomes clear enough when the moon gleams through a part in the clouds, illuminating the bright red of blood coursing down his left side. Starlight pools in sharp glitters in the deep wound sawn into the top of his stretched wing, where there has been a game attempt made to sever the sweeping appendage from his back.

His healing factor seems to be making that slow going, but the people applying the hacksaw to his wing look singularly dedicated to the task.

One of the hooded figures, male by the shape of him, oversees the job. "Lord, we do Your work here today. This creature will blaspheme You no further."


«…it's weird. You feel that, right?»

Rachel lifts off the ground slightly as she prepares to glide down toward the building. It's a cheatey way to be sneaky.

«It's not any kind of psi-disruptor I've encountered before. I didn't want to try pushing on it until we were ready to move. I'll share the psi-shielding I've been working on for it.»

Rachel doesn't like the static feeling. It reminds her of things. Things that twist up her stomach and make her throat clench. Jean, fortunately, gains the benefit of Rachel's eagerness to minimize this phenomenon when the younger psychic passes along a thoughtform of how she's been adapting her psi-shields.

«Anyway, I feel about two dozen people. I think this is going to be a fight… or something really horrible.»

Isn't it always?

Rachel presses forward with the group, helping Jean bolster the telepathic cloaking already in place. She's weirdly good at this.

She's not weirdly good at moving with the group. Better. Better than when she first came to this dimension. But, the urge to burst ahead and confront this growing sense of psychic dread makes her feel jittery. It doesn't mix well with the sickness. By the time she sees the first of the feathers, Rachel feels ready to snap.

Oh no.

Wordlessly, the psychic picks up speed. People can still catch up, but her worst tendencies are being eagerly fed. Through the trees and the night she goes, and with her come pushes of telekinetic force that come back frustratingly muddled. She thought that physically mapping what's ahead of her would work better than trying to use remote sensing, but this interference is wrestling with her to the last.

The last copse of trees is cleared. On cue, the moon breaks through the clouds. Rachel stares wide-eyed and pale-faced at the horror arranged before her with such meticulous care apparently taken to curate the shock value. Rachel can't help but think of things like this sometimes. Sometimes the world doesn't feel real. No — sometimes she doesn't want it to feel real. More like a show.

At least Mojo preferred her as a leading lady.

The night washes away in red-orange firelight as the conflagration that is the Phoenix unfurls from Rachel. The white-flame eyes on her shadowed face widen. The trees bend away from the telekinetic distortion that surrounds her.

"GET AWAY!" she shrieks, voice reverberating. The staticky-sick psychic disruption must contend with first an explosion of telepathic command — literally, get away — and then telekinetic force as her first thought is to help the sawing men obey her by thoughtfully hurling them. Rachel has no idea how well her powers will work this close to the strange anomaly, and years of familiarity prevent her from tapping into the Phoenix Force just yet, but these things are not consciously measured in her mind right now.


Kitty gives Laura a bit of a sheepish look as the girl looks to her for tech guidance. "I didn't get a chance to hack anything." So, they're sort of going in blind. Rachel's own message is returned: («Ha! An endorsement! No taking that back!»)

However, as they make their way toward the disturbance, the joking stops. Kitty's eyes narrow and she searches out the source of what exactly is making her feel this way. It's not hard to spot, really. There is a group of people surrounding a man hung from a tree.

There is, of course, the desire for a surprise attack, a need to make their first hit count. However, seeing Warren hanging there, someone attempting to hacksaw through his wings, her eyes narrow. "Lockheed, stick with the group." The dragon lifts, hovering near Dani while Kitty immediately grabs her sword. Whether the Van is abandoned or not, she rushes forward. Doors are nothing to her. She also makes no bones about passing through those gathered - her trajectory is one that is the fastest route toward Warren.

As soon as she is close enough, she will slow and, while remaining phased, grab for Warren. She is certainly not strong enough to completely lift him, but she will put her arms around him and attempt to phase him out of the reach of these extremists and that hacksaw in particular.


«I like to call it 'coercive borrowing',» quips back Alison to Rachel. On the surface, her psychic signature rings with emotional flatness , serene and unbothered: the same way a flash freeze seals the surface of an ebbing, churning pond.

Shock has a way of doing that to certain types of people. Numbs them from the inside-out, so that they have no time to feel anything — no time but the job that is ahead.

There are things she should be feeling; there are thoughts she should have been turning over relentlessly in her head, the entire feels-like-forever ride here. But Alison Blaire has always been very simple-minded under pressure.

"You should wear these!" Kiff had shouted at her over the initial roar of the helicopter's blades, handing over a noise-cancelling headset.

"No need," mouthed Alison back. She closed her eyes and absorbed sound for the entire trip. Felt it pour into her, consumed into her field, its latent, potential energy running through every cell in her body. It would do.

It's the only salve she has at seeing those white feathers, strewn over the ground.

«…» is the only psychic blip she makes, to the group.

Alison gets only one look at it. The wing. The saw. The blood. And Warren, attached to all of it.

This is not the first morbid scene she's come across, and in the past, she's always handled them with passive reproach and quiet horror, stepping back, keeping silent, trying to reconcile that these things are real, possible, and part of her world. The worst of it would always freeze her, a deer in headlights, her soft heart with no programming to understand why any of this must ever happen.

Now, there is no horror. Thee is no reproach. There is only the long look of a woman pressed to a boiling point over months and months, a frog in her own pot that never noticed how hot the bitter venom cooked her from the inside-out.

The sound of the saw on bone.

The ice on the pond shatters. The shock clears.

Alison says nothing, screams nothing. She is dead silent as she flares to burning, blinding light, its intensity whiting out her glowing eyes. With a soundless snarl, she outstretches one hand, and her curling fingers sieve her photons down to a narrow blade, invisible to the eye, but real — a cutting laser turned on the limb bearing the saw.

«…»


"Disregard interior schematics. It appears we will not be entering."

Indeed, it seems Laura will fit right in with her lingering river-odor, as they come upon the almost ritualistic scene upon the riverbank. The others begin to exit the vehicle, and she does likewise, darting almost immediately into the nearest underbrush and cover as she begins a swift, silent approach.

While there is likely to be a great deal of rage on Warren's behalf, once more X-23 somewhat the exception. At least in some regard. Unlike most of the occupants of the van, she doesn't know him well, and so it falls to the categorical rather than the personal level: violence upon mutantkind, executed purely for that reason. Is she offended? It's probably the wrong word, as she doesn't precisely take it personally. But she recognizes the threat to herself and all of those around her. And neutralizing threats is was she was made for.

« Rules of engagement? »

It's proof of the slow process of civilizing the purpose-bred weapon that she even /asks/, although the monotone of her voice makes it very clear that the default setting is still 'extreme prejudice.' She just offers Jean a moment to set limitations. It's insidious, if only by accident: She could say nothing, after all.


Spilling out of the still moving van, Piotr transforms into an even larger metallic verison of himself mid roll. Raising up to his now seven and a half feet of height his shining metal eyes narrow in on the reason they were called here. And while he might normally be one to wait for a plan of attack, the scream from Rachel and Kitty running ahead causes him to furrow his brow and begin to run towards the group.

There is no screaming or cussing from Piotr, there is very little emotion or anger even, all of that seems blunted by his metallic form as usual. Gone is the motion sickeness of the car. Gone is aching concern for his teammate. Now there is only steel. And punching. So much punching.

The outer edge of the band of purifiers is smashed into like an unrelenting wrecking ball.

His mental reply to Laura is a dispassionate one.

«Get Warren. Do not kill them.»

The phrasing of not killing them leaves a very heavily implied sense that maiming or otherwise severely injuring them is just fine though, at least as far as the big guy is concerned right now.


While not telepathic in the same nature as Jean Grey or Rachel Summers, Danielle Moonstar is a psion.

As such, the oddity that surrounds the area is felt. It starts as a background buzz, something that sets her teeth on edge and then it grows.

"What the hell is that?" She asks, her brows pinching toward the midline of her face, but before that question can be answered completely, things begin to happen.

Once on foot, Moonstar nocks an arrow against bow and string and begins the advance.

She doesn't get far before the area is lit by the flames of a very angry bird, though not a white-winged one.

As the moon shines and the fires of the Phoenix burn, Moonstar finally catches a glimpse of just what's happening. She should say something, but she can't. Horror fills the young woman at the sight of Warren and what they're doing to him.

Words are lost for now and with a swift-sure movement, Dani pulls the arrow back, sights one of the would-be killers backs, and then releases it. There's the soft sound of *TWHIPP* as the arrow flies for that robed man or woman's back.

And while the steelhead arrow seeks to bury itself into one of the figures nearby, it's not a kill shot. It's more like a distraction. A distraction to hopefully help Kitty get in and get out with Warren.

"Stay close, Lockheed." Dani automatically murmurs when the dragon flies nearby. "And be prepared to bite when needed."

A second arrow is pulled from the quiver on her back and nocked.


"Aw, hell," Rogue mutters, leaping out of the van.

And then her eyes harden.

Green eyes blaze with fury. Like Laura this is as much about generalized violence to mutantkind as anything else. That Brotherhood edge still in her muscles, in her veins, in her thoughts. Searing hatred pouring out of her emotions.

Her little smile is hard too.

"Guess you folks missed them there clauses about love and kindness the Lord done talked about."

The rules of engagement say no killing, and there's a shot of incredulity across her emotions, followed by a shot of disgust for her own shot of incredulity.

Bottom line, she doesn't disobey. She does not, say, literally take the gloves off, given humans are the most sensitive to literally being rendered comatose or made dead by her powers.

What she does do is stealth forward until she's within range of one of the cultists, pulling her wrench out of her belt. She knew the big old thing would come in handy. One of those things that can grasp a two-inch bolt if need be. She tries to bring it down on the shoulder of one cultist hard enough to shatter it in a manner she desperately hopes is permanently crippling.


SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO

Professor Charles Xavier's smiling face is the first thing Jean sees when she opens her eyes, and it looks just the way it did in her dreams.

"Welcome back, Jean," he warmly says while wheeling close enough to squeeze her shoulder. "Your parents will be thrilled when they hear you've awoken!"

NOW

"G-guys, something's—"

Like worms burrowing through warm loam, pain and zealotry and fear and worse seek to root themselves deeply in Jean's consciousness as the van approaches a solemn, sadistic ritual.

TWELVE YEARS AGO

Somehow, after months of needles and cages instead of volleyball and college prep, Emilie finds a smile for the masked redhead tearing through a Roxxon subsidiary's medical lab/torture chamber without moving a muscle.

"The rest of my team is going to make SURE that this doesn't happen to anyone else," Marvel Girl promises, tense with focus and nerves, both. "What's— your favorite color?"

NOW

"— wrong, it's— I— I'm— keeping the cloak up—"

Jean's eyes are glassy, fixed dead ahead on— something— that's neither feathers nor hooded forms.

TEN YEARS AGO

"Salem Center's not that big," a beaming Jean muses to the blonde playboy settling in her arms, honeymoon-style. "Maybe if we do this, just, a couple more times, people'll talk enough that we won't have to do it anymore."

A glance is cast towards the movie theater where a fight nearly broke out over who was going to get to give Warren Worthington her number first, before Warren Worthington was mysteriously yanked behind a nearby billboard by the ghost that seems to haunt Salem Center whenever things are about to get sticky for him.

"Probably not, but maybe."

NOW

Jean's best efforts at keeping whatever is so set on creeping through her psyche under some kind of control flicker through the psi-link, giving her teammates a taste of her life. It's enough to gradually bring her attention out of the middle distance and into the world around her while the van inches through— worshippers? Towards—

— towards—

Happy memories are replaced with full-on, shrieking dread until the psi-link collapses. Rachel takes the words right out of her mouth. And it's fine that she does; she and Rachel share so many things, so why not a few words? Jean has others.

Like:

«We're taking prisoners,» once the link's rebooted.

They're quiet because she also shares with her daughter a desire to delay venting the ancient fire in her breast, especially with— SOMETHING— so damned set on filling her mind with poison; anything louder would be a scream. There's also a matter of focus, because there are more words still:

«I'm going to give you all a chance,» a voice like burning glass informs twenty-three souls already facing judgment at the hands of the X-Men, «to make this right:»

The telepathic cloak drops, and suddenly the zealots have a flaming chariot that comfortably seats 8 with drop-down TVs to entertain the family on long drives in their midst. Phoenix doesn't budge from behind the wheel, but there's a woman wreathed in flame floating above the van's roof. The world ripples and bends with each beat of her wings; the blazing emerald eyes studding them twitch between ritualists. Hands spread, she beckons— practically commands as she tries to glare into the primal depths of their psyches, to scour the pieces of them that fuel their zealotry— them to approach for judgment.

«Pick yourselves up. Surrender. Explain yourselves. Do all of that, quietly, or it'll be done for you; do you understand?»


The night lights in sudden psionic fire, and temporarily that staticky psychic disruption is blown away like mist in a high wind before the full force of Rachel's fury. The psychic airwaves clear. The men closest to Warren shout in shock as they are hurled away by her blast of telekinetic force. One of them screams extra, because a cutting laser SEARS off his arm at the shoulder, vaporizing it, sending the saw it was holding spinning away. There is no blood — Alison's light burns all the blood away.

A brief panic erupts through the knot of Purifiers at the sudden violence. They start to break like a herd of animals, especially as Colossus charges full-force into their flank, sending even more of them flying in all directions like pins. His assault gives Rogue the opening she needs to circle in more quietly; the woman she hits screams rather satisfyingly as her shoulder shatters.

The Purifiers break in shock, many of them compelled beyond all their own control by Rachel's telepathic command. The Purifiers' leader whirls, momentarily spared from the chaos, but he is too slow to stop Kitty as she ghosts past, and phases Warren through the ropes binding him, freeing him. He drops immediately on her, still mercifully unconscious, his left wing askew at an angle where it has been half-cut from his back. She'll probably need help dragging him away; the pair of men who run up immediately to confront her theft are dropped by Moonstar's accurate shots, but more are en route, rifles pointed, firing indiscriminately in her and Warren's direction.

Warren is not helpful. Whatever put him into unconsciousness was potent. Somehow he manages to look artfully beautiful even strewn and bleeding all over the broken ground, however. It's really unfathomable.

The Purifiers are nothing if not trained, however, and they begin to regroup. At least — they begin to, up until the sky opens up in a wreath of flame, and A Voice burns through all their minds.

The world temporarily freezes as Jean Grey speaks, and twenty souls wither in a flaming gaze that searches down to their souls.

Then that psychic interference Rachel felt earlier FLARES, strengthening in a savage tide to counter her. It reaches to block Jean's influence too, bearing up a telepathic shield against her psychic command. Amidst the tumult, three blonde women step forward, where the mass of the Purifiers previously hid them. One stands in front, and two stand side-by-side behind her. In face and form they are as exactly alike as the leaves on the trees above them, save for the fact that the mouths of the two in the back are sewn brutally shut, lips cut away and replaced by neat stitches.

"Spawn of the devil," the Purifier leader declares, struggling back to his feet, his voice clear as a bell. His voice rises for his brethren as he points up at the conflagration that Jean Grey and Rachel Summers have become. "You could not ask for a purer image of HELL! We do not explain our deeds to the servants of darkness. Have you come for your vile brother, demon, with your witchcraft and your animal savagery? Catch one creature, it seems, and a flood more shall emerge."

He turns to the women. "My girls, it is time to atone for your state of sin. Destroy the unrighteous, and you will know forgiveness for how you offend in the eyes of the Lord."

The woman on the back right widens her staring green eyes, and the psionic noise sharpens to a searing assault on the minds of all mutants present. Deborah rejoices. Bless what we do here today, Father.

The woman in front wreathes in telekinetic energy, which concentrates into a flickering green barrier wall between the ranged X-Men and the regrouping Purifiers. "Yael rejoices. For it leads us further from our own sins."

The woman on the back left says nothing at all. She only reaches to the side to link hands with her telepathic sister, and on contact their powers mutate and tangle together. That formless psionic assault sharpens like a television image resolving from static, spawning illusionary representations — in real space — of whatever fears can be pried from unprotected minds.

Her other hand reaches to touch her telekinetic sister. Another twist of their powers, and the illusions gain mass, like the hard-light projections of the Danger Room.

Some of those fears must be pulled from the Purifiers' own minds, because illusionary representations of mutants, as they must see them, also rise from the mist: misshapen mockeries of men, with bat wings and dog faces and grasping demonic claws. "Rahab rejoices. Deliver us from our own evil!" hisses from between their broken fangs, in tandem with the widening of the illusionist's green eyes, as they engage the X-Men in melee range.

The Purifiers start shooting. At everyone. The telekinetic barrier, a one-way wall, lets their fire easily through.


The solid metal composition of Piotr's body does little against the mental assault levied by the sisters-three. His initial reaction is to do his best to erect mental shielding as he has been drilled countless times by the Professor and other telepaths on the team to be able to do. He grits his teeth as he tries to keep fighting through the mental anguish but then it begins to shift.

A purifier ahead of Piotr suddenly turns to face him, the hood drawn down over her face. With a flick of her wrist she sends Piotr to the ground. He's pinned by bands of flaming energy to the ground as the woman in the robes continues to approach him. She pulls back her hood and in the same movement draws a large sword from behind her head. A sword Piotr and many others would recognize.

The Soul Sword

The woman indeed looks much like Illyana, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that she looks like The Darkchylde persona. Demonic horns split blond hair into riotous waves. A cruel wicked smirk full of sharp crooked teeth.

"Poor. Stupid. Brother… finally I can be rid of you."

Piotr struggles against the 'bonds' that hold him down. He tries to fight against the sudden appearance of this demonic version of his sister. He manages to get one arm free just as the sword comes crashing down, passing through him as it should but causing immense mental pain and anguish. He screams loud and hard.

The Darkchylde just laughs.


For Moonstar she continues to loose her arrows upon the area.

She aims for the types of shots that take men and women down quickly.

Not quite kill, but definitely brutal.

Especially those that turn their weapons toward Kitty and Warren.

But, because there always is one, a wrench (which isn't Rogue's!) is thrown into the mix. Enslaved mutants. Two with their mouths sewn shut.

"What is wrong with you people." Snarls Dani, the resurgence of that crackling upon the psionic plane felt by the Cheyenne woman. It brings her gaze upward slightly, which causes her bow to lower for a moment as her brows knit as she strengthens her psychic shields, trying to blunt the interference that's dancing across her mind. Then momentary strengthening of the walls around her mind brings Moonstar's attention back to the battle at hand. It allows her to pull two more arrows from the quiver that sits upon her back and to loose one back at the group. Then the triplets intensify their assault.

Shadows stir and soon they become real. It's something Danielle Moonstar is familiar with. Something that she understands, but in the beginning it doesn't help.

The triplet's powers prick at her mind and find the smallest o f chinks and cracks to burrow into. It's what allows the darkness next to her to suddenly boil to life and from those roiling depths comes three things.

A wolf.

A bear.

And the most terrible one of all - a small black bird.

That puff of shadow cracks its beak open and begins to sing.

"NO!" Shouts Dani and that nearly forgotten arrow still clutched in her hand is stabbed at the finch-like bird.

And while Moonstar battles with the imagery of bird, wolf and bear, the Purifiers bring out the guns and bullets start to whiz on by.


In the X-Van, Meggan…

Meggan was watching the vehicle and holding back because you can only throw so many mutants at one problem. Once she thinks Kitty (was it Kitty? maybe Alistaire? probably Alistaire) said something about 'facing problems' that Meggan didn't understand and it embarrassed Brian, but she got the gist - you could only have so many people around one problem before they got in the way. Too many cooks, wot wot.

Meggan wrings her hands. She can feel them out there. Determination. Anger. Fear. What happened? SHe can half-hear them all. She can three-quarters-hear Jean, three-times feel Rachel.

Something awful, she thinks.

It's not an adventure any more, is it? For a miserable moment Meggan, as she hugs her knees, wishes Brian were here to pick her up.

The moment passes. He isn't coming. Nor Kurt, nor anyone else.

Meggan breathes in and out quickly, staring at the floor of the van.

Nobody's coming, Meggan thinks as her fingers tighten. Nobody…

The van sparkles lightly with the aftereffects of shape-shifting as it begins.

But me.

Something enormous vaults out of the back of the PhoeniX-Van.

Something enormous slams into the ground amongst the Purifiers before reeling around and kicking with a leg the size of a small motorcycle of some unelected and unlucky anti-mutant crusader. The leg is shaped approximately like a rabbit's. The upper half of whatever this is resembles a cape buffalo with muscular flesh and thick gray-black hide along with a distorted face, the eyes staring and wide-spread. The arms are at least humanish, if in that leather hide.

Who is this?

Oh, right - the hair is still long and blonde.

"COME ON THEN IF YOU THINK YOU'RE HARD," bellows an Englishwoman. Yeah, that is Meggan. She whirls round to aim another of these massive animalistic kicks, this time leading with thumb-sized nails. They aren't sharp but really at this scale do they need to be.

Emotionally she is surprisingly quiet. She had to drill down hard, and even right now she's barely thinking. Rachel or Piotr perhaps might recognize with dull horror that Meggan was quoting someone from a television show. Then again, there are larger problems afoot…


Rachel can feel the static receding. The hole in her chest becomes a blaze of confidence that runs tingling-hot up her spine and down her arms. These zealots are nothing to her. They took advantage of Warren but that's all over now. Nothing can stop her from making this right.

From the X-Men making it right. The haze recedes partially from her mind and she remembers that she exists in tandem with other people. The arrows and light beams and Colossusing certain help nudge a memory.

The rest of the team bursts into varying levels of outraged action; blessedly, Kitty stays on task better than all of them and immediately gets Warren down. Rachel inhales and her flames draw back closer to her. She needs to help Kitty get Warren out of here while the rest of the team cleans up these idiots.

Excalibur's Phoenix glides forward to assist — and recoils as a wall of psychic opposition slams into her more esoteric senses. The abruptness of the return is enough to shock Rachel out of her concentration and return her to the simple human act of staring.

"Oh," she says, her breath softly escaping her. "Oh, no."

It is too easy for her to imagine who these women are, and what has happened to them. A similar fate is never far from her mind.

The screeching in her head reaches a new crescendo. Rachel doubles over midair, hunching down to clutch her head in her hands while protectively bringing her knees up. The cosmic flame flares brighter around her, swirling in an angry swelling mass. The edges spark and leap as if eager to reach further.

Don't!

The burning aura shifts. Wings unfurl and something like a cruelly angled mouth snaps.

If you're here… I don't know what I might do!

The next wave of static comes. Rachel bites down, feeling teeth grind against teeth. Her fingers curl through her hair and close-trimmed nails slide against her scalp. She can't. She can't!

With a shout of defiance, Rachel hurls her arms and legs back. The fire lunges out from her with sudden ferocity — but dissipates into the air instead of devouring. Rachel drops unceremoniously from where she floated, and lands roughly but serviceably on her feet. With a stagger to right herself, she reaches out with her hands as she settles her sights on the psychic trissault unfolding before her. The astral winds flow through her fingers and brush against wings that are not currently there. She can feel it all. It hurts, but it usually hurts.

«I know how to clean up this mess,» she sends to Jean.

As far as psychics go, Rachel is has a peculiar skillset. In her early life she learned finesse in a very specific area. The rest was brute force. Since taking the Phoenix as her birthright, she has been forced to learn much — and quickly. There are things she has seen across the dimensions that are enough to last many lifetimes of imagination. Closer still, there are things she saw when she was young that taught her what a real psychic can do.

Rachel has been practicing. She still wants to be someone else. Someone she admires — no, loves. She wants that enough to never stop.

"You're not taking THAT!" she shouts, gesturing sharply as if to severe. On the astral plane, the seeking thoughts to steal her fears find hordes of hunting flames eager for their throats. The static kills scores, but they are many and persistent and highly motivated.

"EVERYONE wants that! You should have tried before I put locks on the door!"

Rachel steps forward, hands clutching at the air before her as she throws herself into the psychic resistance. The intensity of the static wells her eyes with tears. Don't stop. Don't ever stop.

The one-way barrier ripples as another barrier forms up directly against it. Rachel pushes in, hard, her telekinesis meeting the other force. Turns out two one-way barriers make a no-way barrier. Unsatisfied with mere negation, driven by pain and fear, Rachel's fantastically fine telekinetic control begins to extend her barrier into the weak points in the other field, seeking to pierce through anywhere it can and then spread the fracturing outward.

«Meggan!» Rachel very nearly startles. Nearly because some part of her heart knew this was about to happen, even if her brain didn't. «Be careful! They're using fear!»

Which is another thing on her list. Rachel glances to her side, then back to the field and static that she's contending with. The manifested thought-forms aren't something she can spare a lot of attention to deal with, but since they're physical they can at least be punched. The fear-stealing itself, though — that can use a psychic's touch.

The psi-shielding she's been working on is helping with the static, but there's no time to try to formulate something to keep the captive psychics out of her team. She knows (or thinks, at least) that everyone here is strong enough to shake it off on their own, but… time. Time wasted is time spent vulnerable.

In a desperate gambit, Rachel sends a thought of her own across the team's psi-shield — more of a thought-variable than anything. It is a warm, glowing thing, full of potential. It is ready to be interpreted by those who perceive it as something to counteract the fear. A memory of courage, of success, of moving on. Most fears are things that have already been overcome once, Rachel thinks. Or, they are things people have already invested much time in considering how to deal with them.

They just need their memories nudged.


It may be a little trite to say, but the Purifiers with guns don't /really/ concern Laura. Her dead-silent charge uses every bit of cover and concealment to her advantage, and her movements are rapid and (at least from an exterior view) highly erratic, making drawing a bead on the vicious little mutant a difficult proposition.

Also, even when a stray bullet hits her shoulder (enough automatic fire in her direction manages to do what aiming can't)… well, she doesn't stop, and the futility of that sort of effort becomes rapidly apparent. There's not even a grunt at the pain from the impact, and the wound is closing as fast as she does on her targets.

It's good that someone did set out some appropriate mission parameters, so that when she leaps onto the first one, it's only his weapon that's cut in half by the tell-tale flash of metal-hardened claws. For -now-, she doesn't repeat Dazzler's dismemberment, although it definitely set a precedent.

But the restraint from outright murder-death-kill doesn't preclude a certain graceful brutality in her acrobatic assault. When losing a weapon isn't enough to cow one opponent, for instance, she kicks low and breaks his knee. When a few more charge into the fray, she twists around one broken man, vaulting from him into another, almost bouncing between them, kicking throats, striking joints, and generally performing a beautiful ballet of ultraviolence. Pretty much as one would expect, the miniature killing machine turned merely hurt-alot machine goes through them like a thresher through wheat.

Until she doesn't.

Honestly, Laura isn't paying a whole lot of attention to the babbling sisterhood. Her training precludes being taken in by enemy propaganda or psychological warfare, and non-engagement is a defensive tactic. Focus, and do the job. Blitz them down, and it's over.

And that's all well and good, until she aims a flying kick at the face of another would-be interloper…

… and feels like she hits a brick wall.

The impact messes with her motion, and rather than landing on her feet on the other side, she bounces back and lands on all fours, glaring up with a mix of surprise and anger. "You- there's no reason you'd be-"

"Oh sweetie," Kimura coos down at her, smug smile no different than the last time they met. "There's plenty of reasons, and they're all here. Everyone knows you're a mistake, and the only way to fix it is to take you back. These people know that too."

As Laura looks up at the crowd of enemies, many of the faces behind the hoods are familiar. Dr. Rice. Senator Johnson. Her poor old sensei.

Sarah Kinney.

"She's right, Laura. We, I-, we shouldn't have done it. We were playing god, and this is all the price. Look at you, all of you, what monsters we've unleashed. Please, please don't fight it, this is- it's the best for everyone."

On the ground, the little wolverine screams in an incomprehensible mix of rage and anguish.


Necessity's made Jean's psychic defenses formidable, but they're currently studded with countless little pits and pocks from psychostatic erosion. Her mind's protected enough to spare the world from visions of X-Men with whispers on their lips, eyes shadowed in judgment, and powers at the ready because It's Happening, Again;

she doesn't crumble into a choking storm of dust, ashes, and wasted time;

nor does Charles Xavier crawl out of the ground just long enough to lock onto every available eye with a look that tells them he's glad he won't have to see them writhe in denial and doubt for a moment longer.

But even in anger, her mental voice was tightly restrained, because Warren's— Warren's maimed, and the people who dared touch him deserve to burn. Or so part of her tells the rest of her, too loud to ignore— too loud not to feed what stays locked in her psyche, fueling their root until her mind's eye is full of a world aflame. Her defenses being what they are, the camp doesn't immediately burst into flames, illusory or otherwise.

Only parts of it do. There's no rhyme or reason, no pattern beyond base variables of scope and range: nothing beyond Jean's line of sight or the general vicinity of one of the X-Men is touched; within those limits, pyrotechnic chaos reigns as cosmic flame— or— a fearful, manifested idea of cosmic flame— explodes in and out of being, reducing inches, yards, and feet of the world to cinders and lashing out at Purifiers and X-Men alike.

Jean's sure that she knows how to stop this— stop all of the triplets' madness cold— but how many people will be hurt if she's wrong? A burning pillar of feather and flame erupts against the telekinetic barrier then splashes into the melee between mutants, zealots, and nightmares. What if she's right, and she just isn't good enough? What if—

What if someone helps her remember that she isn't a scared girl anymore?

«This needs to end,» she flatly informs the trio's telepath as the memory of her last meeting with Purifiers falls over her mind like a shutter and freezes the incendiary display. «And there are so many ways that it can.» Her breathing's labored and sweat's beading across her brow; even with Rachel's reminder close to her heart, the psychostatic's incredibly insistent, and her attention's split. There's the forced broadcast…

«For your sake, I'd really like for us to find a gentle one,»

… and there's the forcibly constructed bridge between her psyche and the Purifier telepath's. Launching an all-out assault on the other woman's mind would be the more expedient approach, here, but there's too much interference to summon up the focus for an effective strike— not to mention a safe one; too little would leave Jean spent and helpless. Too much

So the Phoenix formerly known as Marvel Girl builds a bridge, and that bridge looks a lot like a lush, sprawling field with thousands of empty white chairs and a purple carpet leading towards a humble pulpit, all beneath a big white tent. One of the aisles between chairs is wide enough to give Jean and the other woman plenty of room to walk, talk— or fight— as they will; the tent flaps are shut, but the vastness of loosely imagined astral space lies beyond.

«but honestly: I'm not gonna be that mad if we can't, right now.»

Right now, Jean's astral avatar looks like Jean if she were half a foot taller and perpetually on fire. So, not such a big change from a bad day in meatspace, only here, the flames move in a way that keep most of her face save for her eyes obscured; her eyes are never not looking at the other telepath, even when the orientations are all wrong.

«Still— we aren't monsters,» she continues while bringing spread hands up in front of herself and letting warmth rather than vengeful fire touch her voice, «and neither are you. You don't have to do this— you don't have to help them


The psychic assault hits her fast, and hard.

Alison locks up, her hands cradling her head, shrieking against pain that fires through every synapse in her mind. Her light flares out from her, rippling and distorting, control lost in her suffering.

The Professor once taught them conditioning against things like this; she wasn't one of his better pupils then, with her thoughts usually racing a hundred different ways, and practically impossible to sieve her attention down to a pinpoint focus — better to force through the barrage.

She's never really had incentive for that — until now. Her eyes are directly on Warren, watchful as Kitty phases in to extricate him off the gallows, and the sickening way one of his wings flops with a flexibility it should not, hanging on with its severed bone and exposed ligament. He hits the ground. He's lighter than he looks — but she'll need help.

Alison — Dazzler — forces herself forward, as at that time, something flickers and catches her eye.

At this point, nightmares pull from the mind and take shapes for others. However, for Dazzler?

She looks slightly nonplussed, confused, at the frames of featureless shapes, refracting nothing but moving prisms — like a constant kaleidoscope of bending light. Her head jerks, pulled towards the reactions of others, as Piotr, Laura, and Danielle react the most with visceral fear towards things only they can see.

No such nightmare happens for Alison, who has never been able to be fooled by light.

Even in pain, she's always been a sharp cookie. It doesn't take her long to figure it out. Light pulls into her hands, her harried attention on the triplets —

But it's little time, as the telekinetic wall drops, and the Purifiers turn guns on them. No time for Alison to follow through, as her eyes distant follow Meggan's monstrous — also, very familiar — shape lunging powerfully overhead.

She takes a sliding interception to weave herself between Warren and Kitty, and those drawn guns, and pulls her light down into her spreading ten fingers. She weaves a criss-crossing net of of nothing, invisible to the eye — until the first impacts of bullets spark and hiss as they melt into the shield. It's not substantial, and not significant — grazing shots hit her at her limbs as she strains to hold the barrier.

Then Rachel's telekinetic wall spreads, and the assault pocks uselessly against it, and Alison lets her control down, panting, turning a look back over her shoulder — at Warren's blood.

Rahab's eyes flicker as she feels the loss of Deborah, severed from their triplet link. Her hand tightens on Yael's.

The illusory constructs strain to hold, and under her expediency, worsen their attack.

To Piotr, the Darkchylde implores: "You promised to protect me, brother. Look at me, now. Look what happened. Look how you failed."

To Laura: "Look at what you've become, animal. Thing. Rat in a cage. You were something once, but you ran away. You'll never be them. You'll never be anyone. It will just be one little sting, and the dog will go to sleep."

To Dani: "Look at what you've lost. No parents. No home. No soul. You will never outrun the dark. A soul is no use to someone so alone. Give yourself to the shadow, because you will never escape it. Dying all by yourself in the dark."

To all of them: "Kill yourself."

The illusions flicker. Static. Less Deborah, they cannot hold the images stolen from nightmares. Their voices warp and flange apart as they still implore: "kiLL youRseLF"


The Purifiers may be only human, but they are heavily armed and armored humans, with decent training. Dani's arrows strike a few of the Purifiers moving to shoot at Kitty and Warren, and two falter and drop as the arrows find vulnerable flesh and hamstring their forward progress. The rest are undeterred as the shafts glance off body armor hidden under the robes.

Fortunately, Dazzler interposes to shield away some of the gunfire that comes their way — though that exposes her to the eyes of the oncoming Purifiers, who plainly recognize her. The two men in the lead muscle straight forward, one grabbing at her hair to drag her out of the way. "Get out of the way, whore!" he hisses, as his companion grabs Warren roughly — by the partly-severed wing.

But the appearance of Meggan in all her glory attracts IMMEDIATE attention. Almost all the Purifiers still standing, after her initial assault sends two flying in opposite directions, instantly turn their weapons on her, their minds united in a welter of horror and terror. "KILL IT," their leader can be heard in the background, beneath the rattle of 5.56 NATO filling the air as a dozen weapons fire at the shapeshifter. "Kill the abomination!!"

They certainly try to comply. Up until suddenly, a little shadow of death is in their midst. Men fire at her, only to watch the bullet wounds knit before their eyes. To their credit, the sight doesn't make them break, and only seems to heighten the wild hatred in their eyes… but they cannot contend with her in close quarters. Bones break and guns drop in half as Laura ricochets between them in a storm of (nonlethal) violence.

Until she doesn't. Until the telepath, Deborah, and her illusionist sister, Rahab, do their work, and those most vulnerable lie felled by mental assault.

The telekinetic, Yael, steps forward to meet Rachel as the younger Phoenix presses forward, pushing her own telekinetic barrier before her. Her staring green eyes widen as Rachel's field intersects with her own, growing into it like thorns through a crumbling wall. The strain stands out on her features as she tries to counter, to oppose the infiltration, to reinforce her barrier against the spreading spiderweb of fractures.

It's no good. Of a sudden, the barrier splinters and blows away in a shining cascade of fragmented green energy, in tandem with a scream from Yael that throws her blonde head back. Blood flies from her nose.

She staggers a few paces back, back-to-back with her telepathic sister. Her hand gropes for Deborah's.

"You are blind creatures," Yael breathes. "Blind and cruel. You revel in your sin, and would have us all join you in your perdition. How you all suffer! How you all stumble in the dark. Stop fighting. Let us help you, as our father helped us. As we tried to help your winged brother. It would be so easy for him to be normal again."

The telekinetic energy wreathing off her sharpens, solidifying the longer she touches her sister. It flows into psionic blades, defined and hard and shape, that stand in all directions off her figure in shining green. "And he has longed for it. We saw into his sad mind," she says. "Who would have ever thought? Just a lonely little bird, binding his wings, hiding his shame — and for what? More suffering… more sorrow."

The psionic blades, hard as diamond, leap off her body, searing into the air before dropping back down with impaling force. Rachel is not their target. All the people who were slowed down by the predations of the nightmare — Piotr, Laura, Dani — are.

As for Jean? The telepath does not seem to resist her pull into the astral plane — or perhaps cannot resist it. It is hard to say. Either way, it has the merciful effect of releasing those tormented by the psychic illusions; their fears lose their specificity, and the fake images are revealed for what they are: blobs of light, amorphous and menacing.

The telepath's body remains in the melee, standing abstracted, gentle and patient, hands folded, but her mind? It walks alongside Jean, down that astral aisle.

In the astral realm, Jean is a grand inhuman avatar of godly flames. Deborah? Deborah presents only as a woman, small and plain and blessedly human, with a sweet-lipped mouth unmangled by stitches and made for unburdened smiles.

«Gentle?» Deborah's telepathic voice is patient as falling snow. «You do not feel gentle to me. There are such — »

The astral plane spasms. The field withers. The sky turns into a sheet of flame. The sun dies in the sky, and at Jean's side Deborah — small in a shift, and shaved of her blonde hair — writhes in ways human bodies are not meant to, held down by impersonal hands, screaming and screaming until the needle pulls its first stitch —

« — things,» she finishes, and the peaceful world reflects once again in her placid human face, «I feel scratching at the corners of your mind.»

Her eyes turn to Jean. The cosmic flames reflect in Deborah's eyes. «The sinner never does see her own sin, even as she bathes in it. She must be helped from it, with a firm hand…»


Bullets fly by and it seems luck is on Moonstar's side as none hit her.

Not that it'd matter. Not as the bird sings a song of despair. Not as words are added to those nightmares.

No family. No friends. No soul. There is only darkness. Blackness. Silence.

The sounds of battle, of torture, of gunfire and pain, is gone for Danielle Moonstar. There's nothing left. Only bleakness.

Everything is lost. She's lost. Her soul is adrift.

She could fade away, it'd be easy. So easy. She already has one foot in Death, it wouldn't be so hard to take his outstretched hand -

Thankfully, for Moonstar, before those thoughts can become true reality a spark flares to life. It's bright enough that it pulls her mind away from the blackness, the chill of her own personal nightmare, like a welcomed lantern lit against the gloom of dusk. It brings the Cheyenne woman back to the present, prompts her to refocus, to push aside the song of the bird, the words. To see the battle around her, to hear it once more.

The black-haired woman staggers back upright and as she regains her wits, she spies the sharpened psionic blade coming at her. Magenta energy flares around her left arm and the shield it forms is raised against that diamond-edged blade. When the two meet there's a crackle and burst of energy, which Moonstar stands against.

Her gaze trips along the battlefield looking for everyone -

Rachel, Piotr, Kitty, Warren, Alison, Meggan, Rogue, Laura, Jean -

And then when they fall upon the three sisters, Moonstar's eyes narrow.

Now it's their turn, or Yael's at the very least, to feel a taste of what they just gave. Only instead of nightmares, Dani's own powers reach out to pull from Yael's mind her greatest desire. "Two can play this game, sister." Rasps the Cheyenne woman.


The cruel taunts of his faux-sister in some odd ways help Piotr to focus. His mental shielding is not strong enough to shut out the telepath or the illusionist, but it does allow him to at least break free from the bonds that are holding him down, especially when they lose the telekinetic force behind them. Rolling free just in time, right before a large green TK blade slams into the ground that he was previously occupying, Piotr manages to regain his feet.

"You have no right to try to use Illyana against me. Take off her face."

Piotr looking around for something to wield finds the only thing at hand, a Purifier currently shooting at Meggan's gigantic form. Seeing Piotr reaching for him, he tries to point the gun at Piotr instead. Far from being concerned about the gun fire, Colossus simply crushes the barrel of the gun with one hand, lifts the man with another and throws him at the spectre of the Darkchylde. The illusion flickers as the man sails through it, crashing to the ground painfully instead.

Piotr arches a brow and stands up a bit taller as if trying to survey the battlefield. He shoves Purifiers out of his way, not bothering to incapicitate or even view them as a threat as he makes his way toward X-23. He backhand swats at the illusion of Kimura, if she is real, he expects her to go flying but more likely he expects another mirage.

"Girl Wolverine. We have not practiced this yet, but I need you to trust me"

He reaches out his hand, offering it as a platform for her to step up onto.

"We need to stop the psychic attack."

Hopefully his intention becomes clear because he doesn't exactly say the words, 'I'm going to fling you claws first at the bad guys' but that is very much his intention. There are no words or catchphrases for such things. It would take a far wittier person that Piotr to give it a catchy name. It just feels practical. Something out of his reach needs punching. Or clawing.

*FLING*


For every victory that comes, another doesn't come fast enough. Rachel's telekinetic prowess works as she expected — if someone had tried molecular TK on her when she was imprisoned, she would have been taken off guard in the exact same way. It's not something that comes easily without a teacher.

At the same time, her planned antidote to the fear manipulation isn't a silver bullet. She never expected it to be an easy reversal and the triumph of her barrier over the other means that bullets are less of an immediate concern for some of the group, but every sweep of the clock that passes is another moment for her anxiety to grow over the vulnerability forced upon her erstwhile family.

And then there's that static. No matter how much Rachel changes her psi-shielding to keep it out, it keeps finding its way in. She shoves her willpower against mind-scouring malice. An inelegant and unwilling cry escapes her throat as it parts around her like water, fleeing from her touch only to flow into the weakness her shift in psychic poise presents.

"Just let us think," she pleads beneath her breath. "They just need to think…"

Rachel screws her eyes shut tight. Closing them is risky in a way, but from where she stands the battle on the astral plane is far more threatening. The world stretching before her unseeing eyes is ravaged with intent that she cannot begin to untangle. What happened to these women? Does it hurt to be near them because of their hate, or because of their fear?

Rachel knows the familiar answer, though she dare not dwell on it for long: in a way, it is both.

A shockwave plumes off of her across the astral landscape, seeking to clear away the distortion from all directions at once. Rachel is a staggeringly powerful psychic — if untrained — even without the Phoenix Force. Once she has her wits about her, there is little she cannot accomplish.

Psionic blades hurtle into flight. Rachel's breath seizes in a surprised noise. She doesn't have any resources left unused to stop them. Those wits are all pointed another direction.

The younger Grey is left for a perilous moment in the grasp of indecision, holding back the static while the blades work on their travel arc. Her mind races toward a half-dozen dead ends. She could — or she — maybe she could — or — or — or!

But, in the darkness of her mind, a familiar spark quiets her: a cosmic understanding, an instructive gift from a friend she sent away. Rachel's eyes snaps open. Her gaze is already fixed on the man exhorting his fellows to shoot her friend. The man who preached when Warrren bled, who crooned over the appearance of his weapon-women.

«I'm — I'm going to do something. Barrier's going down.»

Rachel lowers her hands by a half-measure. She feels the reality of the air entering her physical lungs. She takes a step forward, then pushes off from the ground, and then flies into the night sky. Through the trees, into the dark, and she is gone.

A split-second later, the Purifiers' leader is yanked up through the trees after her. They both disappear from astral sight quicker than their travel speed would suggestion. It is much easier to psi-shield for two than for a team.


Laura has a /lot/ of issues, as her particularly robust cast of psychic simulacra can attest to. While usually cool and controlled, close to unemotional in her execution of violence that is to her merely routine, there's a lot to unpack under the surface. For instance, of those gathered faces, for all the different things they were to her, creator, instructor, target, mother? They all share a single common trait:

They are all her victims. Well, all save Kimura.

It is Weapon and Handler that are destined for their imagined rematch here, X-23 lashing out not with calm precision, but unrestrained rage and violence. Futile violence. The claws are out, but they add nothing to the fight, as the other engineered woman is happy to sneer at her, reminding her of what she very well knows: "They designed me to be immune to -you-, remember?" The blades that can part steel like butter don't cut her, sliding across the well-built woman's body and leaving nothing more than marks in her uniform. Her style, too, is a contrast to Laura's, meeting her acrobatic movements with raw force. She's not afraid, doesn't have to guard against the blades, and that turns the little weapon's style on it's head. Fancy feints, agile twists and turns, and sudden bursts of deft, precise violence are simply ignored or deftly reversed, and she shoves the smaller woman down into the dirt.

All the while, the others look on, like a perverse Greek chorus. Some silently judging, some taunting. While at first they are perfect reflections of their original selves, they quickly distort to reflect the violence done to them, the wounds left by her vicious claws. Dr. Rice curses her and points - with a hand notably missing its finger. Oops. The air feels heavy with a familiar scent, and as she lays on the ground, wrestling with Kimura, the other bodies around her transform into the sea of dead she's left behind.

~Find a memory,~ Rachel pushes them. Laura finds hers among the faces looking down. Megan. The first person she ever helped, ever saved. Her cousin smiles, and she looks back to see her mother, the one calm face among the accusers.

She sniffs the air. "Ah. A fake."

The moment of clarity is enough, it seems. The psychic double may look the part, but there's still no fooling that nose. Whatever she's fighting, it's not Kimura, and whatever she thought she smelled in the air, she doesn't. With that knowledge, the whole of the psychic assault loses a bit of it's edge. And if there may yet be a question of what powers these semi-real duplicates actually possess? Colossus comes along and makes /that/ part rather moot as faux-Kimura is flung or dissipated to wherever illusions go.

As for the leap of faith the big Russian offers, her reply is deadpan: "I have reviewed all of Wolverine's Danger Room sessions. I am familiar with the maneuver." That's evidently a 'yes.'

Deftly, she hops into the offered hand, crouching down into a ball as she does. If Piotr had any doubts, they're very likely quickly dispelled. In fact, her form is probably a little better than 'dad.' She weighs less, for sure. Incoming, one ball of tiny 'girl Wolverine,' claws first.


Meggan attends to Rachel - this is a palpable if non-verbal feeling. Her response is the equivalent of a thumbs up in passing, also not really verbal. She is cognizant - but in this moment she seems shrouded in something.

Perhaps that is her secret: already afraid.

The real truth is more subtle: She is running because she can run towards or run away, and after everything, all the kindness and the warmth, she cannot run away. This desperation turns into something grimmer, tighter, but somehow more reliable, more natural, when Rachel extends that moment of surcease, that easing-of-the-heart, that beacon of the memory.

For Meggan it is not a memory as such, but a cumulative impression. And yet it is enough.

Then Meggan is shot repeatedly with rifles!!

She falls over as this happens, understandably enough. Although there is no scream of psychic agony. There is pain, but the normal kind of pain. As she hits her side, Meggan contracts inwards —

And many of the bullets fall out, although one stays lodged in her leg in a way that worries her a little bit, or will later. There is blood but it isn't spraying out with arterial enthusiasm. Wobbling for a moment as chaos reigns, Meggan feels the fear run against the back of her throat.

And then she speaks.

"Normal?" she says as the leathery skin starts turning into colorful crab shell plating. Notably perhaps for being an inch thick, which is hopefully enough to not get smashed up. Meggan's extensive career of watching the Discovery Channel in lieu of BBC America is starting to pay off, especially when another few rounds hit the shell and sink in painfully but not fatally.

"NORMAL?"

"You abducted him! You're cutting off his limb! You think that's normal? There's almost as many of us as there are of you, you psychos," Meggan says with a heartfelt enthusiasm, "so we've got as much claim to be normal as the rest of you! Or did you get to decide who's normal now?!"

Indignation will carry her through. Maybe. Staying low, Meggan realizes perhaps too late that she's going to get shot at a bunch more once they stop being confused, and she already feels like she got shot enough. (Later she will realize that it is idiot luck that she opted to make her skin and muscles thick enough to avoid being shot to ribbons. That's the problem of the Meggan of Future Soon, though.)

"Is this what God told you to do?? To be the ones in the guard towers??"

Her eyes turn upwards at Rachel at her announcement — and her swift motion.

Rachel shows her the way out, not for the first time.

I don't have to go up to fly, Meggan realizes, before kicking off and smashing down, low and curled up, around knee height. She tries to smash her way through and amongst the purifiers, towards where she can hear Piotr's voice. More or less anyway.


Every battle has always been this way, though Dazzler still has trouble getting used to it: the fact there is never time to do anything.

Time only, in mere moments, to look on Warren with quiet devastation, and hope his healing hasn't failed him — she's not certain where he may have major arteries tied into his wings, and if he could bleed himself out of his own, miraculous blood.

Time only, an instant later, to look back at her own teammates, and consider calling out to them: they are lies, whatever they see! She knows they are lies!

But no time, especially when Alison feels someone steal a fistful of her hair, and with a brutal yank, drags her forcefully back. Calls her a whore. She cries in pain, her useless heels failing her, her fancy-date dress restricting her legs.

Her eyes catch, from her periphery, another Purifier taking Warren by his half-severed wing. Her thoughts white out again.

Alison reacts instinctively. She flares with a hot burst of white light, searing enough to cook flesh too close — pouring out of her in a concussive slap to pull that body off of her.

She loses a heel as she powers forward, knowing immediately it's too dangerous to try to pulse him away — too strong, and he may take Warren's limb with him.

Second-best option. Alison throws herself up onto the Purifier's turned back, trying to grab on with an arm looped around his neck. Her free hand palms the back of his head.

Her spread, curling fingers do not glow with visible light. She palms microwaves right into the brainstem.


Grass withers,
the world spasms,
burning wings spread,
and the sun dies, swallowed by fire and life.

Hovering— looming— overhead, the Phoenix glares out of its corner and locks baleful green eyes to the woman who won't be screaming for much longer.

«— wh— stop— »

Beside Deborah, radiant green burns until it's red hot, drawing ambient light into itself instead of reflecting it out. Thanks to the painful memory playing out beside Jean, her blood-red lips cut a cruel, curious smirk even as she protests. Self-hate stemming from gross mistreatment's not so new - especially with a religious angle - but today's her first time she's seen it lead to this level of zealotry. Did Deborah mean to show that side of herself while teasing out this side of Jean? Hard to say; hard to care, because whether she intended it or not, Deborah's made herself into a delicacy.

Just a taste; Phoenix just needs a taste, just to know what Deborah's going through. She could reach out and share the feelings, true, but that wouldn't be the same, would it?

If she consumes them, they'll always be a part of her. Deborah will always be a part of her; when she dies, she'll live on with Phoenix, forever. Just a taste—

«— stop— » Phoenix's opera glove freezes mid-lurch towards Deborah's throat. Every other piece of the world's tranquil against except for Phoenix and Phoenix's arm, which trembles, contorts, and jerks erratically through the air between them while the fire wreathing her crackles unstably, reflected in Deborah's gaze. «— stop,» she hisses, voice warbling wildly in pitch in thickness. «STOP!»

Phoenix lunges. Her hand snaps open; the other joins it, poised for— Deborah's— shoulders. The astral plane spasms.

Old wood and carpet stretch across the field.

White chairs tumble inwards and fuse together into an antique living room set that - mercifully - does not smell as old as it looks.

The pulpit rises and widens into a flat screen playing an old Rita Farr movie.

«There's more up there than that— than her,» Jean lowly says. Jean, because there aren't anymore gold gloves, uniform, or perpetual flames; just a woman in a cable-knit sweater and denim trying to pull another woman into the memory of a warm night spent at home, with family. «More than just sin— everyone's a sinner, but nobody's JUST that. We aren't monsters,» she reiterates. She doesn't specify again, this time, because of course the 'we' includes Deborah.

«You've been hurt terribly,» she whispers, eyes instinctively roaming over Deborah because she wants to get a sense of how terribly. Eventually, they'll fix on the other telepath's; the gesture has symbolic weight even if it's technically pointless in astral space. «And I'm sorry. Your… … your tormenters— they hurt my friend,» the pretty one with the feathers who's perched on one of the living room's sofas, «because they're afraid of him… but all he's ever done is try to help people, even if it'd cost him to do it— even though he had to bind himself, for years, because so many of those people were so terrified of what his existence meant for theirs. So you're— you're right, I'm not feeling gentle right now; he's a better man than he has any right to be, and he was ATTACKED! For NOTHING! I— »

Jean squeezes her eyes shut for a moment. The astral temperature takes a sudden, sweltering turn.

«They've done so much worse to you and your sisters,» she quietly acknowledges after a beat, «and I— I can't let you hurt my friends— but I'm not going to take their sins out on you

Jean takes a step towards Deborah; however close they are by now, whether Deborah's slipped her attempts at grasping… it's enough to put her near enough to make one more attempt at seizing the other psychic. This time, her weapon of choice is a tight embrace meant to help her radiate forgiveness and warmth to the other woman, while also trying to keep her contained and unable to resume ravaging her team's psyches.

Because even hugs can have tactical value.


Strewn on the disturbed ground, Warren bleeds silently into the earth. Alison has seen him heal minor cuts in seconds; but now nothing seems to be happening to the horrific wound sawn into his wing. Perhaps it's just too much, and it just needs more time. Perhaps he can't heal with his miraculous blood soaking away into the ground. Either way, his wing still hangs askew.

It bleeds even more when it's pulled. Alison loses all restraint.

The Purifier pulling her by the hair screams as her light flash-fries his exposed skin, reeling and falling to his back. He is the lucky one. The one dragging Warren finds a sudden weight on his back; he claws first at the arm garroting his neck, but it's the slow warmth on the back of his neck he really should have worried about first.

The struggling stops after only a few seconds.

Elsewhere, voices rise in shouts. 'Normal,' gets said, over and over again. The word hits a chord with Meggan. Her shouted replies draw the eye of the Purifiers' leader. His hood has fallen back, exposing thinning blond hair and the average features of a middle-aged man who one might pass on the street without looking twice. As he looks upon Meggan, the disgust and hatred and pity are plain to see in his green eyes.

"No. There are not as many of you as there are of us," he says. "You are deviations. You are mistakes. The errors of your birth must be fixed. And what cannot be fixed must be purged." Purifiers level weapons at her…

And then Piotr comes mowing through their back ranks. Disorder springs up as he flings men through the illusion terrorizing him, scattering it into nothingness, and others are simply bowled over as Colossus wades through towards Laura, who stands in the midst of dissipating mangled illusionary tormentors — and a few groaning, mangled Purifiers who were victims of her earlier assault.

Piotr has seen the need to put an end to the illusory assault, and so Laura is fastballed — directly towards Rahab's unprotected back. Yael screams and reaches out, but too slow — not enough time. No time to form a barrier, especially with her energies expended by her earlier attempt to oppose Rachel. Claws sink into the illusionist, who falls against her sister without a single sound. She cannot make sounds anymore.

Two can play this game, sister, says Danielle Moonstar. And with Deborah unable to shield her, with Rahab bleeding against her side, Yael's distracted mind is an easily-opened gate for Dani Moonstar's psionic powers. Since she happens to be touching Rahab at the time, whatever is pulled out of her is expressed in illusionary form…

The result is understated, almost like ghosts in the midst of the blood and fighting and shouting. Between the violence of Purifiers being thrown aside and cut down as Meggan smashes through them, the spectral images of three little girls play together — healthy, normal, and human — under the watchful eye of their father. Their father, who looks — familiar…

In a far plane, under a fluctuating sun, Deborah looks up at the Phoenix. Deborah looks up at Jean Grey. Same thing. Her gaze is tranquil in the face of death, of subsumption into the unending flame. «I shall not fear,» she whispers. «I always knew I was bound for Hell.»

Jean lunges. But not to take her. The world changes, this time to a setting of comfort: of family, of home. Deborah rests her hand on a small clock that does not tick, and she listens.

«We are not monsters,» she finally agrees. «We are sufferers. You, your friends… my sisters and me. The angel… I looked in his head. We were not the first time his wings were cut. Did you know? Did he tell you?»

Jean's embrace closes around her. The warm forgiveness brings tears to eyes that do not, technically, exist. «We suffer for being what we are. We do not want to be forgiven for it. We want to be saved from it. We want — »

Her eyes widen. She stiffens in Jean's arms, as the shared pain of her sisters racks through her head, before her astral form breaks up into dust.

Rachel barrels through in a sudden charge, seizing the Purifier leader and sailing away into the sky.

As one, the girls react in a visceral unvoiced scream: «FATHER!»

They lose all interest in the fight. They lose all interest in their compatriots. Rahab throws her arms around Deborah, and Yael throws her telekinetic arms around them both; in a flare of green energy, she hurls the three of them into the sky after Rachel in pursuit. They will not catch up, cannot catch up — but they try.

In their wake is left nineteen men and women; none dead, but all in varying states of injury.


Perhaps, for Danielle, the images of Yael's greatest desire is surprising.

Heart-breaking too.

Just to be a family. Playing nearby their father -

That image of the feather causes another narrowing of Danielle's eyes. Though not for long, not when Piotr picks up Laura and lobs her at the group. Nor when Rachel comes through and drags the leader and would-be prophet of the group up high into the sky, which causes the three young woman to follow. It's with that mental shout of father that those images now click for the Cheyenne.

Disgust twists her features for a heartbeat, but no longer. Not when her attention finds its back upon the battlefield, to all the fallen.

"Time to get everyone out." She calls out to the group at large, probably stating the obvious there, but Dani still says it. Especially with the wounded within their very own group.


Jean lurches back to consciousness with a gasping start. The van's door flies open so she can fly outside and—

The triplets are gone, of course.

Jean sinks to Earth and slumps against the van as soon as the obvious has been concerned, because now she's very aware of the throbbing in her skull and the bright red stream trickling from her nostrils— and even if she somehow wasn't, the way the world's spinning around her begs for added support.

«Where's— where is he, is he— » she wonders. Even her thoughts come in jagged gasps as she tries to recover from a reeling mind. «Can— can he travel?»

There's a lingering pause. She's barely surveying the field, but there are bodies and blood conveniently in her view.

«We should be able to accommodate a couple of guests,» she quietly notes, afterwards. «At least a couple; scan and dump.»


That body collapses right under her. Dazzler snuffs the intensity out of her hand, and forces her field down into quiet. She could surge on and use up the last of her charge, and cook the son of the bitch from the inside-out. She doesn't. She's bitter, she terrified, she's furious — but she's not that.

All is quiet in its wake; she turns half-and-eye on the rest of the goings-on: Piotr launching the tiny Laura towards the foray, Meggan's return from the front line, Rachel physically ripping the lead Purifier straight into the air and out of here, and those mysterious triplets losing their composure in his absence.

The team disables the Purifiers; for her part, Alison angrily kicks the last of them away from Warren. He remains boneless, no trauma to him save for the burn on the back of his neck.

Later, she'll be sick, afraid she killed someone — afraid that someone's life, even a repulsive life, was lost on her hands.

For now, there is only her eyes for Warren Worthington.

Where is he?

"He needs help," calls Alison, among the quiet. Her voice is drawn, a little too steady — still in shock, too numb to show the panic. She kneels next to Warren, and her arms are wet with his blood, as she uses her own bare hands to hold his half-severed wing together, praying it's enough to let his unconscious body do its cellular work.

Her begging eyes are on Jean. Alison doesn't realize she doesn't need to talk. Too far gone to remember. "I can hold it together. He needs help."


The downed Purifiers are in no shape to be protesting whatever treatment they receive. Most are just unconscious, or have simply suffered the average injuries one would expect from being buffeted around; a handful, however, are in drastically worse shape due to lost limbs.

Fortunately for them, in the far distance, sirens can already be heard; a concerned neighbor must have called the police.

Of course, once the furor has died down is about when Warren starts to regain consciousness. He tries to move, naturally, which results in a terrible outpouring of blood from his injured wing (all over Alison's hands), and a gasp.

"Speaking engagements…" He really shouldn't be talking. "They're… the worst."


Fortunately, Laura is as precise in her nonlethal maiming as X-23 would be in her cold assassination. The claws go in deep, severing muscle and collapsing a lung, and make sure her foe isn't getting back up soon. But she avoids the major organs or blood vessels that would see them dead on the spot, or within minutes.

No mistake, they're still foot long adamantium claws shoved into the body cavity, so it's more like an hour, tops. Laura leaving that window is still something!

Stepping back with a somewhat disturbing wet sound as those blades are in fact withdrawn, she draws away from the collapsed form. "This one will also require aid if you wish for their survival," she begins to echo after Alison. It may sound like she's drawing some equivalence between Warren and his former captors, but for her, these are just simple facts.

The matter quickly proves moot, however, as the sisterhood collects its fallen members and flies off in whatever pursuit. She's left standing with… well, bloody claws and not much else to show for it. The story of her life. She flicks clean the gore before retracting them, and steps back toward the rest of the group.

"The authorities will present problems. We should prepare for immediate exfiltration, with our wounded and whatever prisoners we do not wish to cede to the authorities, although it appears we have lost the high-value targets."


Relief comes as the first, faint flicker of something against Alison's numb, anaesthetized expression.

He's conscious. He's talking — he's quipping, but she'll take it.

"Good to know nothing shuts you up," she answers, with a tremor in her vice she neither notices or gives attention to. Alison pays equal lack of concern to Warren's blood dripping through her own hands, or her own injuries. Shock is a hell of a drug.

Her eyes ascertain the team in a roaming sweep; everyone accounted for. And ready to move, with the distant clamour of sirens in the distance.

She carefully tightens her hands. "Just don't move. You're safe now, and we're all going home."

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