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Chapters
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
 
 
 

The Cast of Shadows - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by NicoPony
Last updated: 04/17/2007 12:31:02 AM

Chapter 7

Kitty sat in the recreation room doing nothing in particular. She was lying back on the couch with her arms behind her head and her eyes closed. A contented sigh escaped her lips. It was quiet, and for the first time all week, the air was cool. Kitty had dressed in her short white skirt with cherries printed on it, and a bright red tank top. The less clothes she wore, she figured, the better to enjoy the newly repaired air conditioning.

"Hey, Kitty," called a voice from the doorway. Kitty looked up over the back of the couch to see Remy entering the room. He flopped himself into a nearby chair and put his booted feet up onto the coffee table. "Youíd better not let Wolverine catch you doing nothiní," he told her, "or heíll find somethiní for you to do. Had me clean de garage last week."

Kitty smiled. "Itís vacation!" she said, returning to her reclined position. "Mister Logan wouldnít do that to me."

"Donít say I didnít warn you," Remy said. "Why arenít you over at Lanceís house? Curfewís been moved up, gotta get in your make-out time while you still can."

Kitty looked up to give Remy an angry glare. He smiled and offered a shrugged apology. Kitty sighed. "Iím not going over there. They donít have air conditioning. And when it gets hot, Fred Dukes sweats enough to fill a wading pool. Itís totally icksome."

"Tell me about it," Remy said, then added: "On a hot day, if de wind is right, you can actually smell Tolanskyís odor from here."

"So Rogue stood you up last night," Kitty said, changing the subject.

Remy sulked. "She didnít," he said. "She showed up eventually."

"Yeah yeah," Kitty said, waving her hand. "She showed up and put you in your place. She told me all about it."

It was Remyís turn to glare at Kitty. "Rogue must have told you some tall tale," Remy told her. "Mississippi girls like to exaggerate. Donít you know a southerner can spin some kind of lie, the likes you Yankees never seen bífore?"

Kitty yawned, pretending she was uninterested in what Remy had to say. "You must like her an awful lot, to keep chasing her around like you do."

"I chase girls plenty, Iím not afraid to admit it."

"But youíre afraid to admit you like her, arenít you? She said you like her. You told her she was beautiful."

"Do you ever stop talking? I swear, you canít tell one girl sometíing without de whole school playiní telephone with de few words that slip out of your mouth."

"Fine, deny it. But I know what Rogue told me was true. Yíknow why? íCause sheís honest, remember?" Kitty winked, and Remyís eyes flashed dangerously.

"Iíd bury you neck deep out in de woods somewhere, if I werenít afraid someone would notice the overwhelming silence that comes when youíre gone."

"Okay, Iíll stop teasing you. Seems you donít like the taste of your own medicine. But if you are serious about Rogue, I have to tell you one thing."

"Whatís that?"

"If you do anything to hurt her, I will phase my hand through your chest and tear out your still-beating heart," Kitty said, her voice completely saccharine.

"Iíll keep that in mind," he replied.

"Just so weíre clear," Kitty said, laying back down and closing her eyes.

"Crystal," Remy said, doing the same.

"Whatís this we have here?" called a menacing voice from the doorway. "Seems we got a couple of lazy teenagers with nothing to do."

Remy and Kitty shot to their feet at the sound of Wolverineís voice. "We were just, ah, just---," Remy began.

"Just about to, to---," Kitty stammered.

Logan raised a bushy eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, since youíre so busy, you probably couldnít spare the time for some Danger Room drills."

"Oh, no. No time. Too busy," Remy said.

"Right, right," Kitty said hurriedly. "Remy, letís go-uhm, go---do that thing we were going to do."

The pair tried unsuccessfully to run towards the opposite door that would lead into the living room, but Logan was too fast. He had grabbed them both by the back of their shirts. "Not so fast!" he said. "Thatís real cute, what you did just then. Tryiní to run away. Ah, weíll have a good long laugh at this when weíre older. But right now, I ainít laughiní. So go suit up. Danger Room in ten!"

"Man!" Kitty exclaimed, stomping her foot. "My day is totally ruined."

Shadowcat ran towards the Danger Room at full tilt. Ten minutes wasnít nearly enough time to change clothes and get back downstairs to the Danger Room. She knew if she were late, Wolverine would find some other way to punish her. She skidded to a halt outside the open Danger Room doors and leaned against the jamb, trying to catch her breath.

"Okay, Iím here," she said. Logan was standing in the center of the room, looking at a stop watch. Gambit was just behind him, doing lazy cartwheels across the wide expanse of the floor. Wolverine looked at Shadowcat critically, then at the stop watch, and back up at Shadowcat again. "Just in time," he told her, before dropping the watch into the pouch on his belt. Shadowcat exhaled with relief. Wolverine beckoned her over. Gambit hopped over on his toes, shadowboxing his way towards Wolverine. Shadowcat scowled at the other boy. For having his summer afternoon ruined, he didnít seem too disappointed.

He grinned and shrugged when he saw her expression. "Itís better than cleaning out the garage," he whispered.

"All right, quit yer yammerin,í" Wolverine told him, and put a forceful hand down on Gambitís shoulder to stop him from bouncing. "Weíll see how energetic you are after a few drills."

"Bring it on," Gambit said. "I can run circles around you, Old Man."

"Oh, God," Kitty whispered, folding her hands and looking upwards in supplication. "Please, please make him shut up!"

"Weíll see about that," Wolverine replied gruffly. "Computer, run program!" he barked. Instantly, the doors to the Danger Room swished shut, and the room began its transformation.

Shadowcat immediately recognized the program; it was Sinisterís compound. Her heart filled with dread.

"I knew the professor gave the go ahead too soon," Logan told them as he looked back towards the building that appeared amidst the field of tall grass. "You kids werenít ready. Let this be a little review."

Shadowcatsís eyes darted from the building back to Gambit, who had come to a standstill. His expression was bland, almost bored, and he rolled his eyes in disbelief. "Yes, letís beat this dead horse a bit more," Gambit said.

Wolverine chose to ignore the comment. "Weíve got forty-five minutes of power, before the lights in the compound go out. The mission is to get to the lowest level, get the information out of the main computer, and return to this point before time is up."

Shadowcat nodded in understanding, but Gambit just shrugged and said: "Whatever," and then proceeded over to the open door of the compound.

This is bad, this is really bad, Kitty thought. She really didnít want to go back in there again. Hopefully, the program hadnít been modified to include the rats-or the dead people. I can handle this, Kitty thought. But somehow, knowing what to expect wasnít making this Danger Room drill any easier. Through the twisting hallways and down the stairs, Kitty kept herself between Wolverine and Gambit, not wanting to be the first or the last.

Though they hadnít encountered any of Sinisterís security defenses on the actual mission, every corner they turned on this Danger Room mission held another obstacle. Little flying machines shot lasers and then a wall slid shut with an ominous bang. Between the three of them, they made short work of the obstacles, passing them with little effort. When they finally reached the main computer, thirty minutes had elapsed, leaving them only fifteen minutes to escape. Shadowcatís hands trembled as she worked at dismantling the computer. The nervous tension in the air was palpable, and the deadline loomed over her head, making her work sloppy. A warning shout rang out in the massive room, and all at once, she was back in Nebraska, working in the real lab surrounded by frightening, horrible things. Though she was not wearing the protective suit she had worn then, she felt as if she was confined and suffocating.

She toppled over with fright. The shout was nothing but an exclamation of surprise, as one of the flying machines had zipped through the doorway. A flying card, charged with explosive energy, caught it in mid-flight, and the danger passed. Shadowcat scrambled back to the computer, reaching blindly into the machine with her phasing powers, and pulling bits and pieces free.

"That should do it," she said breathlessly, holding a hard-drive in the air triumphantly. "Letís go."

Gambit nodded to her and turned to exit the lab. Wolverine, on the other hand, appeared to be waiting for something. Gambit looked at him somewhat suspiciously, and then turned his attention to the far side of the room to the exact place where Sinister had emerged when the X-Men had been in the real lab. There stood the pale apparition of Sinister. Soulless eyes stared out from a grotesque face. Kitty knew it was only an illusion made by the Danger Room, but the realism was terrifying. She looked back to Gambit, who stood rigidly, his face an angry mask. His hands clenched and unclenched.

"Oh no," Shadowcat said.

It was then that Gambit turned away from the Sinister illusion, and cast his angry gaze upon Wolverine. She had seen his eyes glow, even spark when he was irritated, but now they burned. Tendrils of super-charged air molecules flowed from his eyes, then from his hands.

"How dare you," Gambit said quietly, in a way that was even more frightening than if he had shouted instead. "You son of a bitch." Staff in one hand, and blazing cards in another, Gambit launched himself at Wolverine. Shadowcat stood frozen as Gambit leapt into the air, his knees striking Wolverine full in the chest. Wolverine staggered, but did not fall, for it would take more than the weight of an eighteen year old boy to topple a man with an adamantium skeleton. Instead, he used Gambitís momentum to throw the boy to the ground, sending him skidding across the lab. Gambit was back on his feet in an instant, swinging his staff and flying towards Wolverine once again. The bo-staff swung, only to be sliced into multiple pieces by Wolverineís claws. Strangely enough, Wolverine looked almost satisfied at Gambitís reaction. Again, the older man threw the teen to the ground. Again, the boy stood and furiously flung himself at Wolverine. Wolverine caught Gambitís hands, which reached towards Wolverineís face as they blazed with unreleased energy. "Iíll kill you!" Gambit shouted then. "He was nearly my father!"

A crack like the sound of a thunderbolt split the air and the pair flew apart, thrown by an unseen force. Shadowcat could feel the prickle of energy along her limbs; it was a feeling akin to pulling on a sweater full of static in the dead, dry air of winter. The room smelled strongly of ozone and became strangely bright. She realized with a start that the objects in the room were glowing with Gambitís discharged energy. Not the red, as it usually was, but white, a white that grew brighter by the moment. Wolverine was staggering to his feet.

"We have to get out of here!" Kitty cried. A strange buzzing sound filled the room.

Wolverine called out a command to end the Danger Room program. As the illusion faded, Shadowcat rushed over to Gambit, whose complexion had gone ashy. Soon she was yanking him to his feet, rushing to the door to the Danger Room. Instead of waiting for the portal to open, she phased through. Wolverine caught the back of her uniform to ride on her mutant power to escape.

"Just keep going!" Wolverine called, and both she and Gambit stumbled down the hallway, careening off the wall in their haste. Behind them came a deafening explosion that sent them all flying forward. Several smaller explosions followed; one detonation after the other. Then silence. Kitty looked up from where she lay on the ground. Somewhere down the hall, a bit of metal sheeting fell from the ceiling. The door to the Danger Room was blown outwards. The lights in the hall flickered eerily.

"Is---is everyone okay?" Kitty asked.

"Ow," Remy replied.

Wolverine groaned. "Damn. And right after the professor told me not to break anything."

Ororo Munroeís heels clicked smartly down the corridor, her swift stride a testimony to her anger. The echoes rang down the hollow metal- plated hall, forewarning the students lingering at the door of MedLab 2 to her presence. She caught the smell of smoke, of something badly burned; the remnants of a fire only recently put out. As she approached the door, the three curious students: Rogue, Polaris, and Cyclops, scurried out of the weather goddessí way. The door to the lab swished open to allow her entry, and swished back just as quickly, much to the eavesdropping teensí dismay.

Immediately inside MedLab 2 was a small observation room cramped with equipment. In the center of the room was a small island which hosted an array of technological devices used to monitor the patient in the next room. Right now, a small hologram of Gambit, his body outlined in a line schematic, twirled above the table. A strange aura surrounded the projection, which broke in bright flashes, momentarily blotting out the hard lines of the hologramís form before fading out again. Sitting before the console was Dr. Hank McCoy. A troubled furrow creased his brow. At his arm was Forge, who surveyed the mechanical equipment with a satisfied look on his face. Storm gave them pause, and her mouth opened as if to speak. She was brought up short when she looked through the observation window that allowed her to see into the lab beyond.

Beast stood and Storm brushed past him and into the lab. To the right, Wolverine paced the floor in short, angry strides. Shadowcat was standing directly to the left of the door, chewing her fingernails nervously. Her gaze stole from Wolverine back to Gambit, who stood in the center of the room. The younger boy was encased in a tall glass tube that stretched from floor to ceiling. Gambit banged on the side of the tube with a closed fist, his curses muffled by the thick glass.

"I heard the explosion as far away as the lake. Alarms were set off all over town. And there is smoke coming out of the basement windows. What on earth is going on here?" Storm demanded. Wolverine stopped pacing and turned to face her. "Logan, what is the meaning of this? Release Gambit immediately!"

"You heard her," Gambit called. "Let me out!"

"Iím afraid we canít do that right now, Ororo," said Beastís voice from behind her. "Thereís been something of an accident."

Storm gestured angrily at the glass tube. "What is this contraption?"

"Itís a containment unit, designed from a schematic taken from the information we acquired from Sinisterís lab," Forged piped up. "It nullifies mutant powers."

"What?" cried Storm. "Why is Remy in there? Has this something to do with the explosion?"

"Gambit blew up the Danger Room," Logan said, pointing at the furious boy.

"While Gambit remains in his agitated state, Iím afraid we cannot let him out of the containment unit," Beast said. "He poses a danger to both himself and others."

"Dis is all your fault!" Gambit stabbed an accusing finger at Wolverine.

"My fault?" Wolverine growled. "Youíre the one who canít control his mutant powers."

"I was doiní just fine before you had to go and play your stupid games wití me!" Gambit retorted.

"Remy, please calm down," Beast said.

"Youíd best hope you donít get out of that thing," Logan warned. "íCause when you do---."

"Oh yeah? You tíink you can threaten me?" Gambit cried.

"That is enough!" Storm cried. The arguing pair lapsed into sullen silence. Deciding she would never get a complete and satisfactory answer from either Logan or Remy, Ororo turned to the girl in the corner. "Kitty, what happened?

Kitty swallowed nervously, her eyes wide. All the while, she had hoped to go unnoticed, lest she be shown out of the room to stand in the hall with the others. The last thing she wanted was to miss all the action. "Uhm, ah-" she began. When Storm raised a critical eyebrow, Kitty rushed on. "We were in the Danger Room, running Sinisterís compound mission, and they started fighting, and Wolverine threw Gambit and he got really mad and everything started to glow and then we ran out the door right before the Danger Room exploded! And we rushed here and put Gambit in this thing that Forge made and Beast kept saying ícalm down,í and Wolverine and Gambit kept yelling at each other and then you came---."

"Thank you, Kitty," Storm said, raising a hand to stall another onslaught of information.

"Until Remy is able to contain himself, heíll have to remain in the chamber," Beast said to Storm. "As it is, the nullifier can barely compensate for the massive amounts of energy he is releasing. I do believe that this sudden burst of energy is directly tied in to his emotional state. Perhaps you can help to calm him?"

"Hello! Iím still in de room! My eardrums havenít exploded you know," said Gambit.

"Youíre only makiní it worse for yourself," Wolverine told him. "Now do as the doc says and calm down and shut up!"

"You shut up!" Gambit snapped back. "Look at me! Iím de boy in de bubble! Calm down, he says! How would you like it if you were trapped in a giant test tube?"

"Unfortunately," Beast interjected, turning slightly towards Storm in confidentiality, "I think his agitation stems from his powers and his enhanced powers stem from his anger. Itís a vicious circle. We can only hope he somehow runs out of gas, so to speak."

"Well, you canít keep him in there forever," Kitty said after listening in on what Beast had to say. "I mean, how is he going to go to the bathroom?"

"I knew I forgot something," Forge said to himself as he pinched his chin between his forefinger and thumb in contemplation.

Gambit looked dumbfounded. "You mean I canít even take a piss? Or sleep or eat! Now dat I think about it, I think I might have to take a leak right now!"

"Until you quit blowing up shit, youíll have to cool your heels in there, kid," Logan said.

"Iíve gotta go!" Gambit cried, hopping up and down. "My bladderís gonna explode!"

"Shut up!" Logan snapped.

"Aagh!" Gambit screamed.

Storm had had enough. "Stop it, the both of you! Wolverine, please leave. You are only aggravating the problem! Gambit, sit down, and do not speak another word!"

Gambit plopped himself down onto the floor, looking surprised, as if his body had responded to Stormís order before it had even registered in his brain. Wolverine stomped out of the medical lab, barking angrily at the teens gathered outside the door.

Storm sighed as everyone in the room looked at her expectantly. "Henry and I will discuss this matter further in the observation room. Hopefully, we can come up with a way to balance out Remyís powers, and have him released as soon as possible. Forge, you will come with us. I would like a further explanation on this machine. Kitty, stay here and keep Remy company."

Storm waited for the others to file out of the lab and paused in the doorway.

"So how long do you think Iím going tíbe stuck in here?" she heard Gambit ask Shadowcat.

"Probably not too long-Storm will figure something out," Kitty replied, her voice full of confidence.

"I tíink Iíd be calmer with my cigarettes," Remy told her. "I should ask Forge to fill dis thing with nicotine." He rapped on the glass.

Storm shook her regal head in admonishment. Still, she was at a loss as to what to do, and she didnít feel as if she had merited Kittyís confidence. Her own fear of enclosed places immediately caused her to panic at Gambitís predicament, though she could see now his fears were not as hers. Storm wondered why the fates were conspiring against her, choosing this particular moment, while she was left in charge, to create havoc. A student locked up in a tube by his own peers and the Danger Room destroyed. Goddess, what next? Professor Xavierís absence could not have come at a more inopportune time.

Professor Xavier steered his wheelchair across the room, sliding almost effortlessly over the glossy parquet flooring. The opulent mansion smelled sharply of furniture polish and cleaning astringent, but underneath was a different odor; the scent of stale air that came when a house was shut up for a period of time. Servants whispered up and down the halls, carrying fresh linens or cleaning supplies. He would glance up every time a person passed, hoping to find Reginald Frost, who Xavier had not seen since his arrival in Boston. He had been waiting all morning to visit with the young girl, Emma, and was anxious to finally meet her. A woman in a housekeeperís uniform entered the room and asked him if he would like something to drink. Xavier shook his head, declining her offer. As she departed, another woman entered the room. She was petite and slim with her limp brown hair cut shoulder length. A pair of unfashionable glasses was set on her nose. She might have been quite attractive if not for the dowdy apparel and the slight slump to her shoulders. She carried a book in one arm.

"Charles Xavier?" she inquired. Her voice was accented. Xavier guessed at Scottish. "Iím Moira MacTaggert, Emmaís governess."

Xavier sighed with some relief. At long last he was meeting someone with a connection to the girl he had traveled here to see. "Pleased to meet you Ms. MacTaggert," he extended his hand to her. "How is Emma doing today?"

"Not so good," Moira sighed. "Iím glad yeíre here tísee the girl. Sheís been in an awful state."

"Will I be seeing her soon?"

"Iím here to escort you tíher room now," Moira replied. "If yeíll come this way?"

Xavier followed after the young woman. "Have you known Emma long?"

Moira nodded. "Aye, her whole life. Her father hired me on after her mother died."

"You and Emma must be close."

Moira smiled sadly. "I admit to being fond of her. Spoiled rotten as she is though, she is still a good gel. I feel as if Iíve slipped up somehow, missed some sign that couldíve told me she would fall ill."

"From what Mr. Frost has told me about her symptoms, Iím certain there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent this from happening."

"Maybe," Moira didnít sound convinced. "This is Emmaís room," she said, as she came to a halt before a closed door. "I have to tell you this, Doctor Xavier---."

"Please, call me Charles."

She bobbed her head and gave him a grateful smile. "Charles," she amended. "Emma is a very special girl."

"I am sure she is."

"Special in a different way, I mean. Iím not speaking as a proud parent would. Itís Mr. Frost that coddles her so, not me. But sheís more than your average ten year old."

Xavier gave her a quizzical look, though his mind was spinning at Moiraís implications.

"This is her favorite story," Moira said, turning the front of the book she carried towards Xavier so that he might read it.

"Matilda, by Roald Dahl," Xavier read.

"Have ye ever read it?" Moira asked.

"I canít say that I have," Xavier told her.

"Itís about a girl with fabulous powers, who gets revenge on everyone who is cruel and mean. Matilda can control things with her mind," Moira explained, looking at the book and drawing her hand over the cover affectionately. "Emma has had me read it to her so many times now, Iíve lost count."

"Are you speculating that Emmaís affinity to this story may be more than just childish interest?" He took the book from Moiraís offering hands and turned it over to study the book jacket. "Do you think she may relate to the character in this story?" He carefully worded his sentences, dancing around the possibility of admitting that Emma might be something-more than human.

"I hope you dinnae think me foolish," Moira said, dropping her head which caused her hair to fall over her eyes.

"Not at all," Xavier said. Behind her eyes, he could see her mind at work.

"I knew ye would be the one tíhelp. Iíve read your work on child psychology, and I was especially impressed with the case you are most famous for, with the young Genet Steel. I was the one who told Mr. Frost about ye, and Iím glad he took my advice-for once." Moiraís voice had turned bitter as she finished her sentence.

Her words gave him pause, as he mulled over the pseudonym he had given Jean Grey to protect her identity. Xavier studied Moira MacTaggert carefully. The work he had composed was only known within a small circle of psychiatrists. How she had come across it, he had no idea, though it signified to him that Moira was more than just a nanny. He was about to speak further with her when the door to Emmaís room swung open. Their attention snapped to the imposing figure just inside the door. He was short with a wide forehead, topped with a mass of oily black hair. He looked through his bifocals and down his nose at Xavier, his face red and flustered as if he had just been personally insulted. The man wore all black, and a white collar marking him as a priest. He strode from the room without a word, sidling between Xavier and Moira as he walked down the hall.

Xavier looked after the priest and then back at Moira, his eyebrows raised in question.

"Father Malachi," Moira answered his unasked question. "Demonologist of the Roman Catholic Church," she said by way of explanation. Her tone was disapproving.

"Demonologist?" Xavier questioned. "Does he believe the girl to be possessed?"

Moiraís lips parted, and she spoke through her teeth in a manner a ventriloquist would envy. "He is a desperate man," she said quietly. Her eyes stared straight ahead into the room. Xavier followed her gaze to a tall middle-aged man who was approaching.

"Charles Xavier," said the man, as he extended his hand in greeting. "Iím sorry to have kept you so long."

"Itís all right, Reginald," replied Xavier, who accepted the handshake. "I know you are a busy man."

Reginald Frost was a tall, angular man, with a full head of strawberry blond hair and a neatly trimmed beard and moustache. His skin was pale, his eyebrows and lashes a nearly translucent blond. Frostís eyes were as sharp and blue as his family name, and cold in their clarity. In the vast white room, with its walls pinstriped in pale pink, Frost looked washed out, almost haggard. Xavierís eyes scanned the room, falling upon the young girl seated upon a small white stool. Xavier immediately proceeded over to her with Moira close behind.

As Xavier studied the girl, a flicker of motion in the corner of the room distracted him. He glanced up to see a small pony standing not too far away. The animal twitched its tail and snorted.

"Thereís a pony in here," Xavier said, (as if the presence of the creature wasnít obvious). He was taken aback by the absurdity of it.

Moira sighed. "Aye, thatís Crumpet. Emma loves the animal; heís practically a house pet as it is."

Reginald Frost cleared is throat and added: "I had the pony transported from our summer home in Newport. One of the specialists we talked to suggested we surround Emma with the things she is most familiar and loves best."

Moira made a helpless gesture, and pointed out a plate of Oreo cookies, a book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes, and a stuffed cat wearing a tiara.

"I see," Xavier said mostly to himself, and turned his attention back to Emma. Her clear blue eyes were blank, though her face remained animated. Emmaís mouth moved and her hands gestured, as if she were in deep conversation. However, she made no sound. Xavier scanned her mind briefly, but found it strangely empty. He relaxed somewhat, for he understood what Emmaís problem was. He turned to Mr. Frost.

"Reginald, may I have a few moments alone with Emma?"

Mr. Frost shifted, as if uncomfortable with the idea. He had been watching Xavierís silent commune with his daughter for several moments now. He was not used to feeling useless, and hated his inability to help his daughter. Finally, he gave a curt nod and turned to leave. Moira stood from where she crouched at Emmaís side, but Xavier put a hand on her shoulder.

"Would it be all right if Moira stayed?" Xavier asked, looking into Moiraís imploring face. "Since sheís more familiar with my work, I thought she may be of some assistance."

Moira and Xavier turned to Mr. Frost. He gave a nod of approval and departed, closing the door behind him as he left.

"Moira, could you tell me more about what makes Emma so special?" Xavier asked in a low voice.

Moira rubbed her hands together nervously. "Yeíll think me mad," she said. "But I think she has some sort of-magic ability."

"Magic?" He was careful to keep his voice neutral and speculative, not dubious or incredulous. Xavier knew she had chosen the word ímagicí deliberately. It was as if she were testing his abilities to fathom the incredible.

She appraised him carefully for several moments before continuing with her explanation. "Once, her father was giving her a stern talking to. She had broken something expensive, I donít remember what-Well, when Mr. Frost was about típunish her, he just sort of stopped in mid-sentence. Then he looked about, as if he didnae know where he was. He looked down at Emma, who he was just yelliní at only seconds earlier, and gave her a little pat and told her she was a good girl. I donít know how she did it! Sheís a charming gel, but-" Moira paused before blurting out: "I hope she hasnít used her powers on me!"

"Was this the only instance you recall?"

"No, thereíve been others, small things that seemed odd at the time, but could easily be dismissed. All those odd occurrences sort of came together when I saw her use her powers on her da."

Xavier nodded solemnly at her.

"So, díye think Iím crazy?" Moira asked, a self-deprecating smile on her lips.

"No, not crazy at all," he replied. "Though I wouldnít describe Emmaís condition as being ímagic.í Thereís a perfectly logical explanation for Emmaís abilities. Sheís a mutant."

Something changed in Moiraís green eyes. A strange look of acceptance flickered in their depths, and look of satisfaction came over her features. "So ye know then," she said quietly.

"Yes, because I am one as well. A telepath, just like Emma here. But, Moira, what do you know of mutants?"

"My son-" Moira began, her voice very low and distant. She shook her head slowly, then turned back to Emma. "So can ye cure her?"

"I canít cure her of being a mutant, no," Xavier said. "But I do believe I know the problem. Emma is lost in her own thoughts, in a place called the Astral Plane. Though how she got there, being as young and untrained as she is, I do not know."

"And ye can go aní get her?"

Xavier nodded.

Moira breathed out a sigh of relief. "Thank God," she said. "I knew ye were the right man for the job."

"Iíll begin now," Xavier told her. "I will have to search the Astral Plane for her mind, and it may take some time."

Moira began to nod in understanding when her eyes flicked back to Emma. A change had come over the girlís features. Her eyes, which had once been blank, now seemed sharply aware. A malicious smirk appeared on her lips.

"There wonít be any need for that, Charles," Emma spoke, but it was not her voice that issued from her mouth. The voice was low, decidedly male, and tinged with menace.

Xavierís eyes went wide with shock. He knew the voice, and though he was filled with the dread of recognition, he asked: "Who are you?"

Emma laughed, and it was painful to see her beautiful innocent, face twisted in such a manner. Moira gave a gasp of horror. "Oh Charles, Charles. You know who I am. Surely you remember how you * tricked * me and then * imprisoned * me on the Astral Plane. That must have been a grand achievement indeed, not soon forgotten."

"Shadow," Xavier said, slumping back in his chair. He studied Emma carefully. She was young, and was a novice in her powers. Surely, Shadow could not pose a threat while in possession of her form.

Shadow blinked slowly and grinned. "Yes. You do remember. Tell me, how is Storm doing these days?"

Xavier nearly lost his composure, wanting to lash out at the fiend who had taken over the young girl. He clutched the arms of his chair and forced himself to relax. Shadow only reveled in feelings of anger, and fed himself on it like a pig at slops. "Release the girl immediately," Xavier told Shadow.

Shadow laughed merrily and tossed his short blond hair. "Youíre no fun!" he said. "Send the priest back in, he was far more amusing!"

"You beast! You monster!" shouted Moira. "How dare you harm Emma! Sheís just a little girl!"

Xavier turned to her and whispered for her to calm down. "Moira, the creature feeds off of your emotions. The more upset you feel, the better he enjoys it."

"I would never dream of harming Emma," Shadow said. "Bless her dear heart, she loves me so. More than Oreos, more than Crumpet, she told me so herself. I think Iíll keep her around for awhile."

"You canít hope to continue this," Xavier told Shadow. "Iíve proven myself your better. If you know whatís good for you, youíll release Emma."

"Emmaís mine," Shadow hissed. "And you will never, never find her. Weíre hidden in a place even you cannot enter," he sneered. "Delightful, oh, delightful!" Shadow cried, unable to hide his enthusiasm. He bounced up and down on the little white stool and kicked his feet. "Iím going to hurt you, Charles. Just a little more time, and I will be free. Until then, it was so nice to reminisce with you, old friend. Ta ta!"

With that, Shadow departed, leaving behind the husk of the small girl, who slumped forward in her chair. Moira leaned forward to catch her, and then pulled Emma into her arms. "Oh, Emma, Emma," Moira cried, stroking the girlís hair. "How could I have let this happen?"

Xavier consoled her, laying his arm over her shoulders. "Moira, none of this is any fault of yours. Shadow is a powerful enemy, and he preys upon the weak and innocent. We must concentrate on getting Emma back. I would like to extend an invitation to you and Emma, to stay at my school. It is an institute for children like Emma; a school for mutants."

Moira sniffled and looked up at Xavier with red-rimmed eyes. "Weíll have títalk to her da. But if you think it could help-"

"Iíd be able to monitor her closely. I have technology there that enhances my powers, and will aid in my search for Shadow. Moira, we will have to tell Mr. Frost that Emma is a mutant. He is her father, after all."

Moira nodded glumly. "Heíll do anything for her, I know it."

"Weíll bring Emma back," Xavier said with certainty. "Safe and sound."

Jean blinked several times to clear her vision. It was like this every time she came back from the Astral Plane; body stiff and mouth thick and sour, her eyes blurred and hearing muffled. She rolled her shoulders to work out some of the stiffness. She sighed, discomfited, and wondered what had called her back from the Astral Plane. Jean had just been painting the sky in soft lavenders and pinks, opting for originality rather than the traditional blues that skies usually were. She was sitting in soft, mint green grass, staring up at her handiwork as she stroked Shadowís velvety muzzle idly. She had chewed her lip in consideration of what she should do next when Shadowís head lifted suddenly. He then stood and trotted off on some business of his own. Jean had just been turning back to her creation when something happened and she found herself back in her room at the Institute.

The house was strangely silent. Sunlight had tilted away from her bedroom window, and the room was dim. Apparently, whole hours had passed while she was unawares. Jean unfolded her legs and brought her feet to the floor. She stretched again before walking to the door and out into the hall. The hallway was empty.

Where is everyone? Jean wondered to herself. She wandered down the steps. "Hello?" she called out, but received no answer. Jean huffed angrily. Everyone must have left for the afternoon, and no one bothered to tell her. She was pouting out in the foyer when a stream of thought swept past her. She turned to see Wolverine storming down the hall. He was angry, and the poignancy of his emotions left her breathless.

"Logan!" she called to him. He was brought up short at the sound of her voice. "Where is everyone?" she asked.

Wolverineís anger seemed to fade into nervousness and agitation. He eyed Jean carefully. She repressed a shiver of delight. "Theyíre all down in the lower level," he replied. He began to take a step sideways, to step around Jean, but he faltered. Her eyes had a strange hungry gleam, and he could feel her gaze raking over him like a physical force. "I wouldnít go down there if I were you," he continued. "There was an explosion."

Jeanís eyebrows shot up in interest. Perhaps that is what had startled her back to her body. "Are you worried about me?" she asked Logan coyly. "I can take care of myself, you know."

Wolverine grunted in response. "Iím sure youíll end up down there, sooner or later," he said. "All your little cohorts are hanginí around like a bunch of spectators at a traffic accident. But Iím not your babysitter; you can do what you want."

"Doing what I want is what I do best," Jean replied, her lips slid into a thin smile. "And Iím the best at what I do."

Logan stared back at Jean for several moments. She had certainly developed a strange sense of humor lately; a weird blend of double entendre and flirtatiousness, which she had been turning in his direction over the past week or so. He rubbed his neck nervously. She smiled at him happily.

"Well, I---," he began.

Jean leaned forward and pinched his arm affectionately. "Well, I can see youíre busy stomping around and slamming doors. Iíll leave you to it," she gave him a wink. "Bye, Logan."

He returned her grin awkwardly and shuffled off, looking almost like a boy who had been reprimanded by his mother. Jean stifled a giggle. It was fun to play with Wolverine. His emotions were so raw and focused, but here and gone in a flash. That, combined with the disorderly state his mind was in, made him easy to manipulate. Jean could now hear him thinking about what he was going to do about the flirtations of a girl who was young enough to be his daughter. Ha, Jean thought. Flirting with Logan, as if! But still-it isnít as if heís bad looking.

Jean decided to take to the lower floors to see what all the fuss was about. She noticed that the digital display above the elevator indicated that the elevator was rising. Was the show over all ready? Jean thought to herself with some disappointment. She shrugged her shoulders and thought about waiting to see who was coming up the elevator. Then the thought occurred to her that it might be Lorna, who she hadnít seen since their argument. Jean decided it would be best not to have to face the girl so soon, especially since it was obvious Lorna was emotionally unstable and pawning off her problems on other people. Jean headed back into the foyer and ducked behind the staircase. The elevator chimed as someone disembarked. It was Scott, not Lorna, who stepped out of the hall a few moments later. He looked around the foyer to see if anyone was around, a worried look on his face. Jean stayed behind the stairwell and silently watched Scottís antics for several moments. Scott tip-toed towards the front door.

Jeanís mouth curved into a wry smile. What did Scott think he was doing? The thoughts she had picked up from his normally orderly and concise mind were conflicted and had a slippery feel to them, as if he were hiding something. Was he trying to be sneaky? Jean asked herself incredulously. A snort of laughter was quickly suppressed.

Late afternoon sunlight canted through the front windows of the mansion. Scott opened the front door and peered out, first glancing in one direction, an then the other. He glanced over his shoulder. Seeing no one, he beckoned hurriedly to someone outside. A shadow fell into the main foyer, and then a girl appeared at the door. She too looked worried and distressed.

"What---what was that noise?" she asked. "Was there an explosion?"

"Iíll explain later," Scott said. "Come in, hurry."

The girl entered and took in her surroundings with wide grey eyes. "Is this where you live?" she asked Scott quietly. Her voice was filled with awe.

Scott nodded in reply. "Letís go up to my room," he told her.

The girl faltered, chewing her lip nervously. "Scott, I donít want to get you in trouble. If Iím not supposed to be here-"

He waved away the rest of her sentence. "No, donít worry about it," he said. "Weíll figure something out. Címon. I canít leave you without a place to stay."

The girl gave him a grateful look. Jean stuck out her tongue at the strange girl. The dopey doe-eyed look on the girlís face made Jeanís stomach turn. The girl had red hair, and in Jeanís opinion she was short and somewhat pudgy. She was kind of cute, in a Pilsbury Doughboy sort of way. Jean would have to resist the urge to poke the girl when she confronted her face to face. But wasnít this a strange predicament? Scott was sneaking this strange girl into the house and up to his room; breaking not one, but two of Professor Xavierís rules. Jean had to know what was going on, and find out exactly who this girl was that would make Scott act in such an odd manner.

The pair was creeping towards the stairs when Jean chose to present herself.

"Hello, Scott," Jean said, stepping out from behind the staircase.

Scott froze, his foot hovering above the first step of the staircase. He turned slowly, his face red and looking more than a little guilty. "Uh, Jean! Hi! I didnít see you standing there."

Jean put her hands on her hips and looked Scott over critically. "I see you have a guest," she said, nodding towards the short girl. Meanwhile, the short girl was trying to hide herself from view by ducking behind Scott.

Scott let out a deep breath of air. His shoulders slumped and his lips set into a grim line. "Jean, I---I can explain."

Jean raised her eyebrows in expectation. The girl was wringing her hands nervously. Scott shifted from foot to foot. "But I canít explain right now. But please, Jean, this is important. Really important. Could you-keep this a secret? Between us. Please?"

Jean studied the anxious look on Scottís face for several moments. She then made a show of sighing unhappily and shrugging. "Well, all right, Scott," she said. "I wonít tell."

Scott looked relieved. "Thanks," he mouthed gratefully and then proceeded to show the girl up the stairs.

Jean watched them disappear down the hall. The soft murmur of their voices ended abruptly as the door to Scottís bedroom closed. That was certainly odd, Jean thought to herself. Not just Scottís behavior, but the girl as well. Jean had taken a peek into the girlís mind and found it to be amazingly empty. Sure, she had feelings and emotions, but no memories and no thoughts except those that pertained to the here and now. She was a blank slate, a tabula rasa. No grown woman could have such a mind, only the very young could be so blank-so impressionable. Yet Jean sensed something more within her. Something powerful, an untapped potential.

Could she be a mutant? Jean wondered. I need to find out more about her. Where did she come from, why is she here? Jean stared into space, her mind slipping away into a vortex of thoughts. All the while unknowing that as she slipped further and further from her physical form, she was leaving herself open and vulnerable. And while her mind was turned elsewhere, something else was preparing to come through.

Yes, Shadow thought. That girl, she may be what I am looking for.

 

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