He could feel his insides burning, as if liquid fire flowed through his veins. Bent over and semi-curled in a foetal position, Cyclops wrapped his arms around his sides wincing in pain as his mind subjected his body to immense searing heat. His mind was drowning in pitch blackness as he fought to stay conscious and shrug off that invisible force that was tugging at his psyche, trying to pull it into a vortex.
The harder he resisted, the greater the force. But wait, he vaguely recognized that mental signature. Jean...He tried to project as loudly as he could, in hopes of reaching her. Jean, please, stop this...
He felt the residue of their long severed link, a faint static buzz. Help me...
Then miraculously, the fire that scorched his body vanished, and so did that tug on his mind. As his consciousness swam back, he opened his eyes. His gaze was blurry through his visor as he looked up. Around him, his team mates started to stir, and the flames had died down. Just when he thought all was well, he heard a thunderous explosion up in the sky, accompanied by a brief shower of scrap metal bits.
"Oh my God! Up in the sky!" Shadowcat pointed out, horrified.
"Sentinels." Nightcrawler's eyes widened.
All the rest could do was stare, mouths gaping.
"The Sentinels. They have been dispatched. And this time, stronger than ever." X-23 clarified, in that firm tone of hers.
This had to be a joke. The Phoenix thought as she tossed the Sentinels aside one by one, spontaneously combusting some, setting off a chain reaction. The explosions lit up the sky like fireworks. To send mere robots after her? They had to do better than that. Throwing up a telekinetic shield with one hand, she deflected the Sentinels' plasma blasts with practiced ease, and meanwhile, throwing telekinetic punches with her other hand. There was limitless energy and adrenaline rushing through her. She was invincible.
"We've gotta help her!" Cyclops exclaimed, in the direction of his stunned team mates.
"Looks like Red can handle 'em," Wolverine was staring up, partially in awe.
"She can't possibly handle all of them!" Mildly exasperated, Cyclops wondered whether he was the only one who was worried for Jean's safety. But he had to remind himself that this was not Jean anymore. He prepared to release an optic blast into the sky.
"Are you crazy? You're going to get us killed!" X-23 promptly objected to his (intended) actions. "It'll only alert the Sentinels to our presence."
"Ta kid is right. We'll take Jeannie out after she takes ta Sentinels out." Wolverine chimed in.
"And stand around here doing nothing and watch her get killed?" Frustration and anger clouding his senses, he ran out into the streets from their hiding place.
"Scott, please get back in here." Storm tried to reason with him. But the Fearless Leader had left the building.
"Damnit," Wolverine cursed under his breath.
He stumbled out, wary of the metal raining down on him. To hell with them all, they had half finished what they had set out to do. The civilians were safe, fine and dandy, but their rescue venture was not completed yet. They had to coax her out of the sky, away from the Sentinels and bring her back alive, and all without getting themselves killed. If he could not count on them to do it, he would do it himself. He would not sit around and witness the one woman he truly loved die before his eyes, by the Sentinels or corrupted by her own power. Even if it cost him his life; but he did not swear on that. He much rather be together with her, in life, if not, in death.
He positioned himself and took aim, releasing a red beam into the sky.
Like mass produce on conveyor belts, they just kept coming and coming. There were just too many, but not that she bothered to count either. She crushed them like tin cans; they did not even come close to harming a hair on her.
As the next victim closed up to launch it's assault on the Phoenix, before she even had time to react, a mysterious red blast tore through the sky and ripped one arm right off the Sentinel. Momentarily distracted, the Sentinel turned its attention to the source of the blast.
Identity: Mutant. Codename: Cyclops. Affiliation: The X-Men. Target: Destroy.
As soon as he fired that shot, Cyclops had a Sentinel on his tail. Then, in a split second, more flying robots followed. There was no time for second thoughts, and he barely dodged a round of plasma blasts before having the time to turn his gaze and fix it upon taking out one of its legs, with which he released another blast with more force a mere second later, the momentum sending the Sentinel falling backwards. But that did not put it out of action for long when it started firing rounds of ammunition again. More descended from the sky, like a menacing swarm of killer bees, complete with the deafening buzz trailing behind them.
He ran and ran and weaved in and out of corners and streets, but they were still hot on his heels. Until one finally stunned him with a blast. Cyclops fell forward, face first onto the tarmac surface. The Sentinel hovered above him, a couple of others behind, and took aim.
But in the next instant, he heard lightning crack, and the sizzle of the Sentinel's electronic circuits. He looked up and caught a glimpse of a lady with white tresses and eyes, before she led more Sentinels away from him. He had failed to notice though, another who came up from behind him, and was just about to slam its fist and squash him like an insect, when he felt someone grab him and phase him through the metallic hand. And when he lifted his head again, he saw one Sentinel flung in his direction and crashed into his attacker, courtesy of his team mate Rogue. The X-Men were back in action. He picked himself up brusquely and continued with the hit and run tactics.
Discreetly, amongst all the fighting, the X-helicopter landed itself on one of the buildings in Washington D.C. Charles Xavier had been monitoring the situation and it was not looking good. They had more trouble than they had bargained for, like what Danielle had told them. Jean had to be stopped, as well as the Sentinels. And the X-Men needed back up.
"And this is your idea of conveying your peace message Charles?" The older man with a head of silver-white hair spoke.
"My people are under attack Erik. As much as I hate to admit it, a war has been waged against us, and we are merely trying to defend ourselves. If my X-Men should fall, the Sentinels will come after you sooner or later."
"But I see your X-Men are faring well even without our help." Magneto raised a sceptical eyebrow.
"We need your help to take down the Phoenix. I need you to distract the Sentinels away from Jean, so I may confront her without any lethal interference."
"Very well Charles, as you wish." With one solid gesture, the Brotherhood of Mutants got out of the helicopter, along with Magneto himself.
Xavier hoped the reinforcement would place strength in numbers. If there was not anyone else he could turn to, it would be Erik. Tensely, he prepped the Cerebro device installed within the helicopter's computer system and waited for the perfect moment that he could strike.
With the Brotherhood on site, more Sentinels were distracted out of the sky. The Phoenix had begun to notice the dwindling numbers of Sentinels. And there were now more pesky little mutants running about, with Sentinels chasing after them; like cat and mice.
Just then, a huge magnetic pulse-wave was generated, taking out a couple of tens of Sentinels in the sky as their circuits were fried. But it did more, catching the Phoenix off-guard a little and sent her flying some considerable distance into the air. Stunned by this new attacker somewhat, she quickly caught sight of him. Reaching out with a telekinetic grasp, she grabbed him with invisible gigantic fingers, squeezing the life out of him for an instant, before slamming him into a building, having the concrete rain on him. He was good as buried alive.
Just as the Phoenix thought she had been finished with her attacker, another assault hit her, literally in the head. This attack was a psionic one, which pulled her psyche onto the Astral Plane itself. Her human body, as good as abandoned tumbled from the sky. Midair, she fell into the sturdy hands of Rogue, who carried her gently down and passed her to Cyclops. He in turn brought her to hideout in some nook and cranny carved out of a crumbled side of a building.
The Astral Plane was a familiar sight; the universe where stars sparkled and shined with crystal clarity. Her blue silhouette scouted the area cautiously.
Come out old man where I can see you!
I'm right here Jean. He had come mentally prepared, donned in psychic armour and ready for battle. He brandished his sword.
I have no need for weapons. I'll take you with my bare hands. There was an evil gleam in her eyes.
Suit yourself Jean, He took a stance and swung his sword at her.
Immediately, she threw up a telekinetic shield acting on pure instinct, and countered his blow.
Back in the helicopter, Xavier's form was quivering slightly, and beads of perspiration formed. Even with Cerebro which amplified his powers, he was afraid that it might not be enough against the Phoenix.
Jean, He called out, searching for the vaguest hint of her mental signature. The one that belonged to his prodigy. Jean, I know you can fight this. Help me fight the Phoenix.
I...I can't...ugh...she's too powerful...she's...That weak mental voice vanished and was replaced with that of a sharp cackle. She will not succumb to your pleas, Charles Xavier. I am far more powerful! With that remark, the Phoenix hurled his psyche across the galaxy.
Gasping for breathe, but regaining his composure, Xavier probed deeper into her mind, trying to penetrate the depths where Jean was being held captive in her own minds and swamped by her very own fears. He saw the frightened child of ten years ago, hidden beneath the surface of practiced confidence.
Jean, if so help yourself. You're the only one who can save yourself from this insanity.
I can't...she shuddered spontaneously, huddled.
Jean, what happened to the strong girl that I knew and loved?
She shook her head, I'm sorry professor, I just can't keep her suppressed any longer. Just end this for me please. Shut my mind off. That's the only way you can stop her...
We can do this together Jean. You need to give yourself the chance. You have so much more to live for.
I...Then suddenly, this mirage disappeared.
Xavier amplified his telepathy even more. He was not about to give up on hope.
The fighting refused to cease. And once too often the Sentinels cruised past them. Cyclops pressed his form further against the wall and hiding himself in the shadows, careful not to stir any sounds. He cradled the limp female form in his arms, and pressed his forehead to hers. He tried to hold back the tears and the guilt that was eating away at him. It was partially his fault that Jean had turned into such a creature. His gentle, precious Jean had been transformed into this vicious monster. But there was nothing you could really do anyway, he tried to reason with himself, brushing the tangled red locks from her face.
Then, from her dry lips, a soft moan escaped, following that, her body spasmed, before relaxing again into the previous state she was in.
He watched on helplessly and restlessly, fear wrenching his heart.
"C'mon, a lil' closer," Rogue taunted the towering metallic figure. While it reached out awkwardly to grab her, lithe and stealth, she dived down for the legs and crushed it. Then picked the Sentinel up and proceeded to swing it like a bat three hundred and sixty degrees round and around, before releasing it into the air. At the same time, Blob did exactly the same, flinging the Sentinel like a ragged doll into the sky and in Rogue's direction, such that the two robots collided with each other, and with that, exploded. She flashed him a smile and a wink, before directing her attention to the other one which was sent her way.
Down the street, there was the cajun Gambit, bo staff in hand, leaping through the air gracefully and executed somersaults, missing the Sentinel's blows again and again. When he finally managed to perch himself atop its shoulder, he charged his cards and stuck them down the back of the robot where it was most vulnerable and the main circuits accessible. When it started exploding, he jumped off, landing on his feet like that of a cat, in a crouched position.
Maniacal laughter accompanied that of Pyro as he kept dousing the Sentinel in flames. Avalanche triggered earthquakes and made the road crumble beneath the Sentinel, which promptly lost its balance. Falling, Shadowcat phased through the robot, and peculiarly, this action caused the circuits to be shorted. They exchanged a flirtatious grin. This was a pair which was apparently getting along very well.
Up in the sky, it was more of Storm's domain. Like Zeus, she commanded lightning bolts from the dark clouds and sent them after the Sentinels. Of course, there were other elements at her disposal as well, but this was the quickest and yielded the most impact. Though Iceman had tried tossing huge ice boulders in the Sentinels' direction, it was not working out as well as he thought it might. On his tail however, it was hexed by Scarlet Witch. Quicksilver and his speed, as well as Nightcrawler with his teleportation merely confused the Sentinels as the robots launched themselves minutes too late in their direction. Colossus pitted the brute strength of his organic metal form against the synthetic form of that of the robot.
Wolverine and X-23 let their feral nature lash out at the Sentinels, claws extended and sunk into the bodies of the robots, just ripping at anything in plain sight. While it took them longer, they had managed to fell the robot in the end. Abruptly, Wolverine stopped in his tracks and sniffed at the air.
"Fury. S.H.I.E.L.D. What da ya know about their operatives? Maybe if we can find them and put an end to all this."
Wordlessly, X-23 signalled to him to follow her. Maybe there was an easier way to halt this fighting madness.
Charles Xavier gritted his teeth and gripped the armrest of his pilot seat. This psyche battle was putting a major strain on his physical body. The amplification was almost at its maximum.
Ugh! Jean was pushing and forcing. It was a Jekyll and Hyde struggle, and her Phoenix persona had refused to comply. It was hard to fight to champion over the other mind which was inhibiting the same body. The Astral Plane silhouette started to glow, just as it did once before when she had confronted her mentor, who was under Apocalypse's mind control. The glow spread out of her psychic form and bled into the darkness of the tranquil surroundings. Her arms took the shape of wings as her form grew brighter and whiter. The glaring white light slowly consumed the entire universe and imploding soundlessly, flinging the two combatants out the Astral Plane proper.
The impact was also felt by Xavier's physical form, and threw him forward from his seat where he remained safety buckled. Sitting there, he plunged into this daze, eyes gazing out aimlessly. His psyche had yet to regain himself.
And while in his arms, Jean's physical body began to glow brightly with the illusion of flames consuming her as she had begun to stir.
"UGH!" She let out a scream as her body jerked readily.
"Jean?" Cyclops had started to panic again.
The crevice they had been hiding in started to tremble and loose bricks started crumbling. Then, as abruptly as it started, the shaking stopped. And she was calm once more. Her eyelids fluttered open and she took in the sight before her.
"Hi, yourself." She managed weakly.
"Jean, it really is you...I'm so sorry for everything...there's so much I want to tell you...I..."
He had wanted to lean in to embrace her, but stopped short at the sight of the towering giant that stood before them. Jean let out a shriek.
Identity: Mutants. Target: Destroy.
Eerily, the flame returned to her eyes. Stiffly, she stood up, and with the flick of her wrist, flung the Sentinel to the sidewalk.
But there was no response as she continued to venture out into the daylight, telekinetically shoving aside Sentinels which got remotely near their hiding place.
"You'd better leave while you still can. I don't know if I can hold up much longer." In truth, she had been referring to keeping both the Sentinels the Phoenix at bay.
"But I'm not leaving you here Jean!"
"Scott, don't be stupid, just go! Go while you can!" She pushed him back with her telekinesis, trying to nudge him out of the way.
"I've done far more stupid things than this. I'm not leaving you!" Obstinately, he tried to force his way back on his own will power. "Jean!"
"Just leave me alone!" With Jean distracted, the Sentinel took its chance and fired at the redhead. She fell forward onto her knees. With her hold lost on Scott, he ran forward to her side.
"Scott, please," the tears were starting to form in her eyes.
"I'm here," he whispered as he hugged her. "I love you, and I'm not leaving ever again." From the corner of his eye, he saw the Sentinel take aim at their heads. But he would be damned if he did not die with her. He closed his eyes and prepared for the worst as he imagined the robot powering up its plasma blast for a lethal blow.
As the Sentinel fired on full power, Scott felt his position change. Jean had spun them around and thrown herself on top of him, lying sprawled on the ground. After that, the world went black.