Chapter One: Brotherly Division
He was up there for hours, ever since the explosions on Apocalypse Island. Snow and ash had started falling, dusting the world in white and grey. The sky was a dark black, especially over the island. The fires that raged in what was left of the city were the only light visible in the night, a hazy orange-red glow hovering around the island. The bridge that had been our route to safety was one-way now, it’s far end burned away and collapsed. Your Elite, the one called Jesse, knew that no one else was going to come across that bridge.
No matter how much he wished for it.
“Nothing,” The other Elite, Terry stated, slowly climbing up the rubble to stand by his brother. Both men were in good shape, tall and muscular. Jesse was only slightly shorter than his just-barely-older-brother, his head topped by short dreadlocks. Conversely, Terry was bald, the only other hair on his head a well-trimmed goatee. Both of them were dressed in a dark shirt covered by a dark grey vest and pants. Jesse’s shirt was long-sleeved, although it now bore several holes and stains. Dirt, smoke, blood, and ash were smeared all over their uniforms and faces, making them look more like us than the Elites they were.
With a tired sigh, Jesse nodded, not bothering to look up. “Nothing. Unless you forgot to tell me that Scott and his red-headed friend are in camp.”
“Now that I think about it,” Terry joked, tapping his chin as he over-thought. “Last I saw, they were cooking steaks and pouring drinks. Scott sent me up here to ask; rare or medium?”
“Man, you know how I like my steaks,” Jesse smiled, shaking his head as he chuckled. “But Scott, pouring drinks? Bullshit.”
The smile on Terry’s face slowly faded away. “That was our whole world over there. Everyone we knew, everything we owned. Our favorite bars.”
“Favorite women,” Jesse added.
“My album collection.”
“That sushi restaurant, in the H Block.”
“Damn, that’s right,” Terry grimaced. “So what are we supposed to do now?”
“Go to another city,” Jesse replied, looking over his shoulder. “We’ve got good cred in the system, good history. We can get someone’s position in an EMF; hell, we’ll go to Astrovik. He doesn’t have an EMF. Could probably use a couple of helpful gentlemen like ourselves.”
“He never needed one, but he was trained by Scott. We could probably get in good with him,” Then Terry turned, looking over his shoulder at us. “But what about them?”
The two looked down the mountain of debris that they stood upon and surveyed us. Who knows how many had made it across the bridge. There had been hundreds of us in the Pens. Maybe, if we were lucky, there were a hundred of us then. A hundred poor souls that had been captured, starved, beaten, drugged and experimented on since we were brought to the Pens. For some of us, since we had been created there. All of us were hungry. Tired. A handful were sick or injured.
And staring down at us were two of the men responsible for keeping us locked up. More than a few of us had already talked about exacting…justice. But the brothers could still be useful. So we decided to wait.
Jesse stood then, shaking off the snow and ash. “Paragons of responsibility we ain’t. Besides, we don’t protect…dregs. We were supposed to keep them locked up.”
“Scott gave us the mission.”
“Scott is dead,” Jesse stated. “An’ the only reason we helped him was cuz it was more fun than killing prisoners.”
“It was better than killing prisoners,” Terry turned, facing his little brother. “When we first joined up with the High Lord, we did it cuz it was right. But what this world became – that’s not what we were fighting for.”
“Is that right?” Jesse asked. “Cuz I remember humans hunting us down like animals. You remember sleeping in the sewers? Using our powers so we could steal food? But hey, since we used our powers, then we had Sentinels trying to fry us,” He shook his head. “Whatever this world is, it’s what they made it Terry. We don’t owe them a damn thing.”
“S’not about owing anybody anything little brother,” Terry said somberly. “It’s about doing the right thing.”
Jesse stepped past Terry, beginning his descent from the top of the pile. “I want to do the right thing – for us. Hard enough to take care of two in this mess, much less…” His voiced faded away, leaving the older brother alone.
“You expect me to believe all that?”
Chapter Two: True Stories
The story-teller stops talking; the illusion of the story broken. The werebreed refocuses it’s vision across the burning remains of the car that lie before him so that it looks directly at it’s audience. “Does it sound untrue?”
Prelate Scott Summers stops pacing, shaking his head. A handful of survivors crowd around the Prelate, watching him carefully, unsure of whether they should revere him or fear him. Set off to side is the thin woman, Ash, and her…caretaker…a muscular human named Eddie. They sit together, the woman in the man’s arms, still shaking after her encounter with the Prelate.
Despite his fatigue and his hunger and the growing pressure from holding in his optic blasts, Summers maintains his stoic front. “I’ve fought beside the Bedlam Brothers for years. They’re reliable and trustworthy men. They wouldn’t question the mission.”
The werebreed, who Summers had dubbed “Boxface” in his mind, just held up it’s taloned hands, the chains still dangling from it’s shackles. “I tell you only what I heard. If you believe I’m lying, by all means,” Boxface smiles, revealing rows upon rows of jagged teeth. “See if anyone else will talk to you.”
Summers glares at the werebreed. “How did you stay close enough to hear all this?”
“The damned Beast gave us all kinds of…gifts,” Boxface says as light plays over it’s body before vanishing. “We learned to use them well.”
The Prelate makes a noncommittal grunt, looking away from Boxface as it reappears, turning upwards to study the sky. The dark clouds were beginning to lighten; dawn was coming soon. He closes his good eye and sighs. Nearly 24 hours of violence, betrayal, death, and running.
And it wasn’t over. Not even close yet. When they had discovered the Pen survivors, Summers had hoped and prayed that the Bedlam’s had survived as well. The task that he and Weapon X had taken on was going to be nearly impossible enough – destroying what remained of Apocalypse’s Empire. But now there were nearly three dozen weak, sick, injured, relatively useless refugees he had to plan for. The two of them alone couldn’t care for these people. Neither one had the resources or the skills to keep them alive. And while that would have been true of the Bedlams, at least Summers would have known that the refugees were well guarded. But if they were gone, like this Boxface had mentioned, that meant Summers had no help at all.
He had been betrayed by his brother. The woman that he…cared for…was dead. His last two friends were now missing in action, and he has nearly three dozen souls to watch over. That was no way to fight a war. So what would he do?
God was he tired.
“Finish your story.”
Chapter Three: From Recon to Kill-Shoot
Things were quiet once both of the Brothers came back down and joined us. After all, what else could be done? The best any of us could do was to seek shelter, stay warm, and pray to see the morning sun. Some did make demands of them, but the Brothers were more than able to handle themselves. It seemed like our first night of freedom would be a peaceful one.
It was not.
Before the storm that stole the island happened, a ship came. It was one of those flying types you Elites like to use. It circled the island several times and the survivors nearly panicked. Here was Apocalypse, we thought, come to find his home destroyed. It would only be a matter of time until he found us and then we wouldn’t be lucky enough for the Pens. Oh no, now it would be death.
Many ran. Dropped whatever they were doing or whoever was near them and went. Your men tried to keep us calm, but how could they hope to stop all of us? Terry used his mutant powers, mind-blasted those nearest, myself included. We were made into idiots, every thought broken and shuffled. Some ran into walls or tripped and fell or simply dropped to the ground, unable to walk anymore. Your Bedlams shouted as well.
“STAY CALM! You’re only going to hurt yourselves!”
“Terry! They’re trampling her – ”
“I’ve got it, I’m gonna – ”
We shouted as well.
“God please, have mercy – ”
“Hide! It’s the only way, get inside something! Hide, quick – ”
“They’ll kill us all! We should never have left!”
“I told you this was – ”
“Can’t do this anymore – ”
Things were not helped as the ship stopped over us.
It was a large ship, although smaller than this field. An enormous light burst out of the bottom, blinding us, and it kicked up a wind that sent dirt and ash and snow flying. Somehow, that light froze us. Like insects when the light would come on in our cages.
“Can you tell who it is?” Jesse shouted at his brother, both of them shielding their eyes.
“Nobody I recognize,” Terry shouted back, a pink glow around his forehead. “I’m trying to scan – but I can’t read anything! It’s shielded!”
“Bring it down?” Jesse asked. I can only guess that he meant with his own powers.
The Prelate nods. “Terry can create psionic haze in the mind, confusing whoever he uses it on. For Jesse, it was machines. When he wanted them to, pipes burst, screws came undone, and computers would freeze. If he needed to, he could have taken that whole ship down.”
If only he had.
“On top of all these people?” Terry asked, shaking his head. “No way! We’ll just have to hope – ”
The ship attacked. Bolts of red energy fired out of the ship as it lowered. It got within ten feet of the ground and three people jumped out of the bottom. Then it rose back up, continuing its fire as they attacked us.
One was a man, like you. He wore black and grey and brown, an EMF uniform. His hair was black, but streaked with white, despite being young. A barcode, Boxface drags a claw down his left eye, mimicking its placement. Was like this. And then he smiled and he laughed and reached out his arms and lightning fired out! We would hear it build, like a whirring sound, and then he would reach out and someone would die. He moved erratically, jumping and spinning as he shot. I believe…I believe that he was playing.
The other man was very still at first. He was thin, like one of us, as if he had not eaten in a long time. He had dark skin, like your Bedlam Brothers, and long white hair, like a cloud around his head. He was dressed strange, just pants. No shirt or armor like most Elites wear. And his barcode ran over his mouth, which I saw was sealed shut, as if burned that way. This man walked over to one of the fallen bodies, a young girl who was still alive, crying and screaming. He reached out so tenderly that at first I thought he would help her.
But as he did so, his hand changed. Three red orbs burst through around the knuckles and the flesh turned a metallic black. His fingers fused together and created an enormous mouth and he latched it onto the girl’s head! The sounds…of her muffled screaming are one of the worst things I’ve ever heard. When she – when she finally died, the man stepped back and I saw his face smile. He turned blue and suddenly got bigger, like a larger man lived within his body! More mouths appeared, always with the three red eyes, but everywhere, his shoulder, his arms, his eyes, his chest. He ate as he moved; throwing anything he could into a mouth – stones, bodies, car parts we hurled.
As disgusting as he was, it was the last that took my soul. The men were monsters in form, I could see that. They wanted us dead, either for pleasure or to eat us. This we were used to. But the last one…she didn’t feel any of it.
“It was a girl?” the Prelate asks.
Young, not a woman yet, also with dark skin and hair. She wore the colors of the Elite, but had no visible code on her. She was tall, semi-muscular, and her eyes were white. And unlike the men, she didn’t relish the killing. But that didn’t mean she didn’t kill. She flew calmly through the air, moving from person to person, killing them with cold efficiency.
“How?” Summers asks.
With her hands. Some she would punch and her arm would go through them. Others, she tore their arms off or their head or she fell upon them from the sky, crushing them into the ground. When this proved to be taking too long, she picked up cars or debris and squashed us like bugs. Covered in blood and gore, she never blinked. Never cried out when struck. She would just move and kill. Move and kill.
Do you know these Elites?
Chapter Four: The Prelate Speaks
The Prelate is quiet for a long moment, thinking. Finally he shakes his head. “I don’t. Any craft that could get to A-Island so soon after its destruction had to be close, which limits where it came from. I thought that I knew who had what forces in our territory, but clearly I’m out of date,” He aims his good eye, glowing red in the darkness, at Boxface. “Didn’t the Bedlams help you?”
The werebreed gives a tired shrug. “Well, they tried.”
“That’s it!” Jesse shouted, grabbing his brother by the arm. “I am bringing down that ship and aiming it for these psychos! You think you can scramble them long enough?”
“Like an egg,” Terry replied, putting a hand to his head. The pink glow came back around his head and suddenly burst around the heads of the other three. They stopped their assault immediately, the smaller man walking in circles. The big blue man seemed confused, as if he didn’t know where he was anymore, and started crying.
The girl screamed.
Her hands shot to her head and she started to convulse. It was like her body was fighting her, I had never seen anything like it. I swear I could almost see two bodies inside her own. Like she was made of two people! But all of a sudden she snapped back, her body returning to it’s stiff, rigid form. Terry cried out and was physically knocked back by whatever she had done. Covered in blood and gore, the girl turned toward him, emotion finally registering on her face.
It wasn’t fear. It wasn’t hate. It was…more like…dismissal. And then she was on him, one hand around his neck.
“TERRY!” The other brother shouted, his concentration having been aimed at the ship. He had been doing well – the laser fire had stopped and there were several odd whines coming from the ship. But it was still in the air, though it was a bit wobbly.
Terry choked out a sound and the pink came back, striking, I guess, at the girl’s mind again. She shook her head, splattering blood, but hung on to both herself and his neck.
“Damnit, let him go!” Jesse shouted. He turned towards the girl, picking up two handfuls of debris to attack with, but never made it. A burst of electricity hit him from behind, dropping him to a twitching mass on the ground. The younger man sneered as he lifted the Bedlam’s head.
“Lookit this, we caught ourselves some Nur-be-damned race traitors,” He looked at the other man, smiling. “This’ll be promotions for sure.”
“Hungry,” the other man replied, one of his own eyes replaced by three red orbs and a mouth. There was desperation in his voice, to his face, as that eye spoke. “I need to eat more.”
“C’mere then Maw,” The younger man lifted Jesse Bedlam by the back of his vest and began dragging him towards the one called Maw. “Y’ever had Elite? Gotta taste better than this genetrash.”
A single word from the girl stopped the young man. “No.”
He turned to her. Having finally fallen unconscious, the girl had released the older Bedlam. “The Prelate wants them alive for questioning.”
“Damn his questions!” The younger man shouted, dropping Jesse’s head back to the ground. “Our first live mission goes from recon to kill-shoot, we catch some bona fide traitors helping these dregs, and he wants to ask ‘em questions? Like what, how did you get so stupid?”
The younger man did not notice the ship dropping to the ground, nor did he notice the final man to exit it. This one was full grown, like yourself, thick and mature. He wore mostly black, although a long, red cape was pinned around one arm, folded over silver-colored armor, like yours. The silver went all along his arms and his shoulders; he even wore a helmet of it. His very presence seemed to cow the others, who noticed him right away.
“I want to ask them questions, rook, like how did they escape the Pens, and with so many? Did you betray your squads and leader? Am I to believe that Scott Summers, the adopted son of Horseman Sinister, was really beaten by two jokes like these? Was this part of the assault on the Citadel? Were they working for the Human High Council or those race traitor X-Men, or was this some kind of power grab from one of the other Horsemen?” The silver-man stopped by the younger man, who stood tall and still, his face holding a quiet anger. The silver-man leaned it, staring through his helmet. “We aren’t born Elite, rookie, we choose to be Elite. Remember that.”
Summers spits. “Damnit.”
“Yessir,” the younger man replied, a bitter taste on his face. “We’re taking them back with us then?”
“Naturally,” The Prelate said, looking from him to the girl. “Hollow, get the Bedlam Brothers aboard the ship and make sure they are secure. The younger one nearly crashed the Helios before Bevatron stopped him.”
The girl nodded and, with one hand, picked up first Terry, then Jesse, then flew on board the ship. By then, the Prelate had turned to the one called Maw, finding him gnawing on several different bodies.
“Stop that, it’s disgusting,” Then he turned back to the young man, Bevatron. “Get on the Helios and the controls. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Bedlam’s.”
The Prelate managed a few steps, his perfect black boots crunching on the frozen ground, before Bevatron spoke. “But – but what about them!?” He asked, eagerness in his voice as he gestured at the fleeing crowds – some of whom had remained close, praying for mercy like fools. “We can’t just let them run free.”
The Prelate barely turned and his voice was barely hearable. “I don’t take orders from rooks. Get on the ship. Take the controls. Now.”
The Prelate was the last one to return to the ship. He turned at the doorway though, one hand grabbing it’s frame. I believe he was steadying himself. Then he stretched the other out, palm facing up, like this, Boxface holds his arm out, on his feet now.
I thought he might be insane. But then I could feel – we all could feel – the ground beneath us tremble. It bounced and jittered. The concrete broke, glass windows shattered, we were shaken off of our feet. It was as if the ground had turned to water and now flowed beneath us! I could barely hear the screams over the sound of the earth moving and then, suddenly, the ground was gone. It just fell away and became this. Boxface raises his arms here, gesturing at the depression that the survivors are camped in. Many of us were pulled in, drowning in a sea of dirt. Others were caught in the buildings as they collapsed, or under them. It took us hours to get any sense of what had happened.
When we had, the ship was gone.
We dug out who we could. Some…some we figured were better buried. Better that than being left out to rot like an animal.
Then came the storm that took A-Island and I knew, Boxface says with a smile. Then, I knew that we were free. The whole world is different now, prelate. It threw away your precious island and we – are – free.
It wasn’t long after that until you arrived and –
“ – here we are.” Boxface says, gesturing around the area. “So. Now what, prelate?”
Summers stands, his boots crunching in the frozen dirt. “Now I come up with a plan.” Then he walked away, his back fading into the darkness that hovers around the camp.
“Wait!” Boxface shouts, standing in a hurry. “You recognized that other prelate! Who was he? What was he doing here?”
Whether Prelate Summers heard the questions or not, he didn’t answer them.
Chapter Five: Options
While Summers had story-time with the survivors, Weapon X had taken the chance to regain some strength. While his healing factor would stave off the effects of the cold, that meant his body needed more energy to keep the process going, that meant food. With so little in supply though, X knew that the best thing he could do was sleep. So he had wormed his way into a small circle of survivors, huddled around a sad fire, and got what rest he could.
Enhanced hearing spotted Summers’ approach. The survivors leaving at it finally prompted X to open his eyes.
X grunts. “I feel better’n you look. You learn anything interestin’?”
“Yes, actually,” Then Summers relates the short version, skipping Boxface’s theatrics. At the end, Weapon X leans back and scratches at his stubble.
“I know that prelate.”
“So do I,” Summers replies. “Dominic Petros was one of the architects of the Ascension; he’s a legend to the Elites. His opening statement in the war against humanity was the sinking of Venice – by himself. But he retired to his own personal city in the north a few years ago. Arclight was leading his Brotherhood, last I knew, and I know it wasn’t made up of these rookies.”
“Given that Jean and I sliced-and-diced that albino and tin-man of his though, I’m guessing his Brotherhood needed restockin’.”
Summers’ head jerks towards X. “Copycat and Box? They’re dead?”
“As they can be,” X adds, brushing the snow off of him as he stands. “Bastards tried to sneak into Eurasia during the Sentinel exodus.”
“The rest of the unit wasn’t there? The Brotherhood was,” Summers pauses, remembering the roster. “Five strong, last I knew.”
“If they had showed up, I’da killed them too,” Weapon X says. “Maybe the Sentinels got the rest of them here in the States.”
Summers nods, running a hand through his long, dirty, hair. “Quite possible. And it would be cause enough for Petros to take the field again, even with rookies,” He sighs. “Assuming all this is true though, it rules out heading north.”
“I thought the plan was to tear down anyone who still followed ole’ Blue-Lips’ agenda,” Weapon X says, a hostility edging into his voice. “This dirtbag sure sounds like he makes the damn list.”
“He does. He also has the Bedlam Brothers, who would be a fantastic asset for us. But we can’t storm Petros’ facility with this,” Summers nods as the crowd. “I would literally be sending them to their graves; Petros would just drop a mountain on us. I thought that perhaps retirement may have taken some of the edge off of the man, but clearly that’s not the case. Much as I hate to leave the Bedlams behind…we can’t risk a rescue. Yet.”
“Sorry, but I ain’t real concerned ‘bout two Elites who ran with yer EMF when we’re surrounded by a buncha people in various stages of dyin’. We’ve got to somethin’ for these people.”
The Prelate takes a step towards X. “The Bedlam Brothers have saved my life more times than I can remember and they sided with me against the rest of my unit. They are the only reason these people are standing here today and you need to respect that.”
X doesn’t back down. “You gonna shower me with more praise for yer Elite buddies or are you gonna come up with some kind of plan to finish saving these people? Or do you leave all yer jobs half-assed?”
“I already have a plan,” Summers replies tiredly as he looks away from X. “But you aren’t going to like it.”
Summers was right.
Chapter Six: Travelling Thoughts
“There is it,”
Pietro Lensherr stands in a quiet area of stone. He’s dressed for travelling now, a thick brown coat of wool hiding his X-Men uniform. Mud has been smeared over the two X’s that rest on either side of his boots. A large pack of food and bedding is slung over one shoulder, bought in Shadowtown and carried since then. Behind him, a waterfall roars in the night; the pathway he stands upon emerging from its shadows. Snow covers the landscape, knee deep on the travellers. Large boulders, studded with iron spikes, lie before him, narrowing the path and leading his fellows down into the forest below. A pale moon rides high in the sky, casting shadows and white light, but only when it can catch a glimpse of the Earth below it. The warm oranges and yellows of Sunfire’s atomic flames add to the ambiance and enable the rest to see clearly. His cloak was burned off hours ago, when the small group had started their trek through the woods at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Standing next to Shiro is Illyana, her small hand lost in one of his, bundled in a thick patched coat. In the lead is Morph, whistling at the sight that rises before them. A Santa cap rests on his head and he is bundled in furs.
An evergreen forest obscures the pathway to their destination. Past the forest is a large stone bridge, a section on the right side missing. Then, beyond even that, is the castle itself. Made of stone and mortar, reinforced by steel bars, the castle stands tall. Several towers jut off of the main building, the roofs tiled, worn, and beaten by the elements, currently covered by the snow.
Morph turns to Quicksilver, adjusting his appearance into that of a handsome prince. “Tell me there is a princess in there Petey. One of the beautiful, sleeping variety types, because lemme tell you, I have not had a date in SO LONG and I – ”
“No princesses,” Quicksilver tiredly responds, his tone snappish. “And please Morph, no jokes. Let’s just go. We’re all tired and cold and hungry and this trip has already cost us too much time. Shiro, take the lead.”
Sunfire nods and, glancing at Illyana, let’s go of her hand. He pushes past Morph, making sure to slightly bump the megamorph. As Quicksilver and Illyana pass, Morph changes back to his normal form – a featureless face of white – and asks “Was it something I said?”
Quicksilver doesn’t reply. The trip from the Core had been a long one for all of them – but especially so for someone who moved like he did. Accidentally teleported there by Illyana as the Human High Councils’ bombs dropped on Apocalypse Island, the quartet had managed to escape by sheer luck. They had then hitched a ride with a travelling caravan of humans, trading their protection and news for the ride. The journey had gone well and, for the rest of the party, was even a bit relaxing. But for Pietro, the ride had just been a chance to think.
Unable to just sit in a semi-cab and be driven, Pietro ran alongside the caravan, watching for trouble. At least, that was his story. In reality, Pietro spent most of the time thinking about the rest of his friends – his team – his family – and whether they had made it out of A-Island alive. After all, his group had managed to survive. Why not others? Nightcrawler had been in the field and so had Blink. Some amount of them had to have made it back.
But – and that was when the Thought crept in, the one that Pietro had been shoving down these past few days – but what if they didn’t? During the battle, Magneto had left the X-Men in order to rescue Pietro’s little brother, Charles, and Rogue had gone with him. Pietro hadn’t seen either one of them in the field after that. If anyone could have escaped some simple bombs it was his father, but Apocalypse was no push over. And Father wasn’t as strong as he once was. He could have died, it was possible.
If he did die, then what was Pietro supposed to do? He was a good field leader, yes, but he wasn’t his father. Did he have any hope of leading the X-Men as well as he had? Would they follow him? And what if no one else made it out? What if he was alone, with only Morph and Sunfire and a little girl who could barely use her powers? Should they keep fighting? Hide? Live out the rest of their sad little lives in a castle in the woods?
“Kill Apocalypse” had always been the plan. There had never been anything after. Well, maybe something. There are – were? – feelings there for Ororo, but with the lives they lead…nothing more could come of it. Both of them knew it. The mission had to come first. But the mission was accomplished, Apocalypse was – is – dead.
And Ororo might be too.
Quicksilver shakes his head, coming back to reality with the realization that he’s dodging around trees.
The small group had worked their way down the rocks and was nearly through the forest now. Whatever the future was about to bring them…they were nearly there.
The fastest man on Earth picked up his pace.
In the next Age After: A rescue mission. A diplomatic mission.