Chapter One: Splitting the Difference.

With a loud groan, Mikhail Rasputin rolls over. His body, composed of an orange-yellow techno-organic mesh, rolls a few seconds behind him. The mesh is sluggish, sloshing over and off of his frame before settling back onto it. The walking stick that had been shoved through Mikhail’s chest is gone – broken down and absorbed by the mesh while he was out. It had also repaired the damage done, both by the stick and the fall from the upper floors of Big Ben.

Suddenly a quake runs through Mikhail’s frame. His blank eyes bulge as spasms rock his body. Retching, he doubles over, one arm wrapped around his stomach while the other braces him. The t/o mesh quivers again and he vomits, thick orange circuitry pouring out of his mouth. Long trails of glowing lights run back into him. Mikhail starts to wipe at the goo but he twitches again, vomiting more material. Another time and again, the nanomachines force themselves out of Mikhail. The more he expels, the more sloshes off of him, slowly pooling beneath him. As the last of it runs off Mikhail’s muscular frame, it starts to flow away.

Heading towards the dead body of Donald Blake.

Mikhail reaches out, his hand shaky and his vision blurry, but the stress of losing the mesh is too much for him. He can’t stop it, can’t reach it, and so he doesn’t. Letting his head fall to the ground, Mikhail starts to gather his wits.

Meanwhile, the mesh continues to slide towards Blake. As it crosses into his blood pool, the mesh starts to break down the organic material, absorbing the raw energy released from the process. It rolls onto the body, absorbing that as well, doubling and tripling it’s mass. Slowly it starts to bundle up. Forcing itself upward the mass begins to form a vague shape.

Flowing limbs sprout from the t/o mesh. Loose arms dangle far below the boneless knees. The mesh shifts color, switching back to it’s standard black and yellow scheme. Twisting it’s far-too-small head, the mesh looks at the fallen form of Rasputin one last time. Then it turns again, facing the opposite direction, and shambles off into the ruins of London.

Mikhail, on the other hand, isn’t doing nearly as well. When Apocalypse’s forces had found the mesh, Sinister had expounded upon the myriad abilities that it could give to a user – assuming that they were able to bond with and control the substance. However, the mesh couldn’t bond with mutant DNA. It would only work on humans, and even then, interior programming would only allow the mesh to consume it’s host, then look for more. Despite it’s amazing abilities, it was practically useless.

But Mikhail wouldn’t stand for the waste. Wanting that power, NEEDING IT, Mikhail used his mutant ability to alter reality and FORCED the mesh to accept him. It cost him his abilities, but the trade-off was worth it. Nigh immortality, able to control others with a thought, shape-shifting – Mikhail was as powerful as Sinister!

While altering reality was a formidable power, Mikhail never really knew what to do with it. When a man could do anything, what then should he do? The possibilities were endless and while he made use of his powers, they never suited him. Mikhail was not a thinker – he made a far better conqueror.

His mind was on fire as his abilities burned back into existence. Through the mental smoke he can think of only one thing. Failure. My entire endeavor, wasted on these foolish flatscans. I’ve lost my flagship, my t-organics, my chance to carve out my own empire in Apocalypse’s barren wasteland. My brilliance, squandered. Pushing himself up, Mikhail glares at the sky and the enormous towers that fill it – the Seawall.

“Take them all,” He says bitterly, spitting as he forces himself to a kneeling position. “Wipe them all out! LET APOCALYPSE HAVE HIS WASTELAND AND CORPSES! Let his black hands grip Europe by the throat. Let him choke the life out of them all,” He finally stands, the hard, broken ground stabbing at his feet. “I’ll make my own kingdom out of Nur’s corpse if I have to,” He curses.

Concentrating his newly reborn powers, Mikhail Rasputin – the Forgotten Horseman of Apocalypse – wills himself back to Apocalypse Island.

Chapter Two: Between a Rock and…

Deep within the mountainous Core, the geothermal heart-pump of Apocalypse’s empire, Pietro Lensherr, son of the now dead rebel known best as Magneto, sits in his dark cell and watches his captor intently.

Being captured wasn’t something that Pietro was used to. As Quicksilver, the speedster of the X-Men, he evaded attacks and traps, relying on both his speed and his surrogate family. For many years, he actually thought that it was impossible. You can’t catch Quicksilver. There wasn’t a prelate or Infinity alive who could match him in a foot race – but it wasn’t a foot race that landed him and his companions in this mess.

Little Illyana Rasputin had managed to teleport herself, Pietro, and two of his teammates – Sunfire and Morph – out of the bombing of Apocalypse Island seconds before they hit. However, in the firefight, Illyana’s concentration was broken and she went to the only other place she knew – the Core.

Miles belowground, under-powered and REALLY out-numbered, the mutants were captured by some kind of rock-based mutant. Whoever she is, she now sits in front of Pietro.

Leaning forward onto the back of her rock-hewn chair, the woman flips her fingers and a small, thin cylinder of rock appears in her finger tips.

“I miss smoking,” She says suddenly, the tip of the “cigarette” glowing a bright red as she heats up the stone. “I miss a lot of things. Eating. Drinking. The feel of a nice, cool bed. Screwing,” Wistfully, the woman takes a drag off of the cig, an annoyed look on her face. “No lungs, so this really doesn’t even count as smoking. I know I’ll live…probably forever…but it’s got it’s downsides. You know what I miss? Taking a crap. Weird right? But that sense of relief, that release of pressure. I never thought I was taking my body for granted,” She stops again to take another drag and then sits there.

Pietro is, quite understandably, confused. A little grossed out too. “I was expecting torture, but not like this.”

“Ah good,” She says suddenly, standing to swing her chair around. “You DO speak. I am Prelate Kristensen of the Core – newly appointed. Judging by the X’s all over your clothing, you’re one of those rebels aren’t you?”

No point in lying. “I am.”

“Fancy that,” Kristensen says, leaning back in her chair. “My first week on the job and I catch a bunch of X-Men. It’d be my lucky day if there was anyone around who cared,” Her expression changes here, the stone of her face somehow getting harder. “It was you guys right? Somehow – in some impossible, crazy, screwed up way – you managed to destroy A-Island.

”With help,” Pietro says surely, giving her a nod. “But yes. Apocalypse’s citadel is nothing more than a mass of nuclear craters now.”

Nodding her head in appreciation, Kristensen smiles. “Survival of the Fittest turned against even the big man himself. If it hadn’t killed him, I’m sure he’d approve,” Taking another breath, Kristensen drapes one arm over the back of her chair. “However. It leaves me with a sticky situation.

“What am I supposed to do with you? I have no superiors here – hell, I’m technically not even a prelate. I only stepped up and took the job because no one else had their head together to do it. Sugarman disappeared, Quietus got killed, and everyone was just killing everyone else. They were going to tear my mountain down!” Kristensen shouts, her anger shaking the walls. “And now A Island is gone. No Apocalypse anymore, so who knows what’s going to happen there. I don’t know which Horseman’ll take charge. I don’t know if I’ll even get replaced. But I do know that I got a country that needs electricity.” Kristensen says, giving Pietro a determined look. “And by the High Lord’s corpse, that’s my job. You going to try to shut us down? The four of you?”

“No,” He responds quickly, hoping that this is going where he wants it to. “We didn’t even want to come here; we were trying to get home. While I’m sure that we’ll clash someday, today was NOT the day for it. We killed Apocalypse,” Quicksilver says, standing up proudly. “We killed Abyss. We killed Holocaust and the Sugar Man and the Beast and everything that Apocalypse could throw at us,” Here he stops, taking a deep breath.

“If you let us go, I give you my word that the X-Men will stay out of the Core’s business. We aren’t going to stop – we can’t. We’ll work our way through the empire. We’ll free every camp, kill every prelate, and rebuild this country from the ground up if we have to. But we’ll leave you alone. And if you won’t let us go, please, at least let the girl go. She doesn’t deserve to work in the mines,” Pietro looks into Kristensen’s blank eyes, his cold blue iris’ looking through her. “Please.”