Wolverine and Nightcrawler paced the floor slowly in a circle, sizing each other up, neither taking their eyes off the other. The younger mutant kept himself between the black-clad usurper and the one that could only be assumed to be his master. It was obvious that he was protecting the chalky-faced mutant, that he was more than willing to kill or die in his defence. Any move Wolverine made to get around him was instantly countered.
An all out brawl looked imminent.
Wolverine growled low, surprised to hear Nightcrawler answer him, baring his fangs for good measure.
“Logan…” Charles warned softly.
“Don’t worry, Chuck…” Wolverine smirked. “I’ll make it quick and painless.” Off to his left he heard Pietro’s snort of laughter. He ignored it, lunging for the blue-furred mutant, prepared to take him out with a tap to the bundle of nerves at the base of the skull. But Nightcrawler was no longer there. He hadn’t teleported, he would have smelled that. He didn’t realise the boy had somersaulted over him until one of those nastily clawed feet connected with the side of his head.
Growling, Wolverine touched his cheek. The fingers came away red as he found the two deep trenches dug in his flesh. Across the room, Todd’s hand absently went to the identical wounds on his scalp. Wolverine spun to face his former student, who had once again placed himself in front of Essex.
“Well…” He muttered. “Maybe not so quick…”
Essex gestured to the spiky-haired boy that had been identified as Legion with a quick flick of his chin towards Xavier. The youngster held out a hand towards the previously powerful telepath, pulling him and his wheelchair forward. Scott lunged at the Professor’s chair. Blue energy danced from Wanda’s fingers, hurling him back against the wall.
“Ow…” Scott mumbled as Jean rushed to his side.
“He really is quite magnificent, isn’t he?” Essex was saying to the Professor as he indicated the furry mutant glaring at Wolverine. “Took me an age to get him under control…”
‘Under control…’ Charles thought. “You couldn’t break him…” He concluded.
“No…” Essex admitted, but didn’t seem at all disturbed about his failure. “His psychic shields are phenomenal…you must be very proud…” He smiled down at him. “I couldn’t make a dent in them. He was quite the challenge…”
“What did you do to him?” Charles breathed, watching Kurt as he continued to glower at Logan.
“I couldn’t break his shields…so I simply strengthened them.” Essex informed him. “Assaulted his body and mind to the point that he retreated so deep within himself that I could lock his psyche away…”
“You trapped him in his own mind…” Charles gasped.
“Once he was mine the others proved to be hardly a challenge at all.” He gloated. “It was almost as if their will had been destroyed with his…”
“Of course, it’s left him with little more than instinct.” Essex continued. “I’m not really sure how much intellect he has left…he hasn’t spoken a word since. He appears to be little more than an animal. But look at him, Xavier…the colouring…the sleekly muscled body…tail…fangs…claws. He was truly designed for only one purpose…” He snapped his fingers and Kurt hissed like a jungle cat. His eyes ignited like twin suns and he shot towards Logan in a flash of fur and fangs.
“He’s a predator!” Essex finished with a wicked smile.
Wolverine braced himself. He wasn’t sure what to expect from this new, improved’ Nightcrawler. The boy had barrelled straight at him, but disappeared in his characteristic puff of smoke scant seconds before he impacted with the brawny mutant.
Nightcrawler exited his teleport immediately behind Wolverine and savagely kicked him in the kidney. Wolverine growled and spun to face him, but he was already gone, only to re-materialise to his left and jab him in the liver. He continued his assault, disappearing after each quick strike. Logan was an experienced warrior, he knew what the young mutant was up to. He was looking for a weak spot.
The rapid succession of teleports were having another effect, though Logan had to wonder if it was intentional. The flash of light as Nightcrawler entered that fiery dimension he used to teleport through was threatening to blind him. The stench of brimstone was burning his sinuses. The constant implosions of air were wreaking havoc with his hearing.
He had heard the chalk-faced creep say that he was pretty sure that Kurt no longer possessed any sort of logical thought process, but his actions surely proved otherwise. The boy knew exactly what he was doing, through a series of kicks, punches, twists, flips and slashes he was wearing away even Wolverine’s reserves. And the kid knew it.
And changed his tactics.
He teleported onto Logan’s shoulders, this time taking him into the teleport with him. Nightcrawler quickly spun into another quick succession of teleports, each one taking a greater and greater toll on Wolverine’s body. Logan was feeling decidedly iffy by the time Kurt relented. Now the boy had caught an exposed beam in his grip and wrapped his overly long legs around Wolverine’s chest. His flexible toes worked their way under Logan’s adamantium laced ribcage, driving the air slowly from his lungs.
Scott’s eyes widened. He recognised that move.
“My God…” He whispered. “It was Kurt…?”
Wolverine’s arms were pinned to his sides, but he instinctively popped his claws.
“LOGAN!” Storm cried. “NO!”
He was obviously beginning to loose it, but he knew enough to now the kid wasn’t responsible for his actions. He glared at Essex, even as his vision began to blur. Kurt leaned forward and hissed in his ear. He wavered…then Kurt let him drop to the floor.
He released the beam and dropped down silently beside him, crouching low, studying his fallen prey with a blank expression. He slowly raised his hand and clicked his fingers. Pietro zipped forward, placing something in his still raised hand. A collar…identical to the ones that encircled all the other captive mutants necks.
Kurt lowered his hand slowly, watching as the blood seeping from the various wounds he’d torn in Logan’s body began to slow. When it had almost stopped he snapped the collar around Wolverine’s neck, then rose slowly to his feet, still gazing emotionlessly at the fallen mutant.
His fellow X-Men lowered their heads, struck dumb with the grief of seeing what had happened to their gentlest of friends, more so than what he had done to their burly mentor. Even the Brotherhood members were shocked.
So the chuckle that came from the shadows hit them hard.
Mystique stepped into the light and sashayed towards her silent son. “I must say, Essex…” She purred. “You do good work.” She ran her fingers over her blue-furred boy’s armoured shoulders. “I doubt I could have done a better job if I’d raised him myself…”
She was smiling, but from her position behind him she didn’t see Kurt’s eyes narrow as he looked back at his mother. She didn’t see his lip curl in disgust revealing a sharp fang in a nasty, silent snarl…
She had no idea she was in any danger until Kurt’s fist connected with her face.
She was staggered by the impact, her hands instinctively going to her nose. She could feel the warm, sticky liquid on her fingers but her nose was numb. As she pondered whether or not her nose was actually broken, Kurt spun and planted a foot against her belly, kicking her across the room.
She hit the wall, and then the floor, hard. She looked up to see Kurt, crouched low, sizing her up. His eyes locked with hers, he set his shoulders, and sprang. She ducked to one side in an effort to escape the flashing claws, but Kurt landed silently on the wall to her left. She thought it weird that he had misjudged the leap so badly, but then she felt the tightness around her throat, felt herself pulled upwards as he continued up the wall.
Kurt didn’t stop when he reached the ceiling, he switched from the vertical to the horizontal, crawling across the ceiling until he reached the centre, all the time dragging Raven with him. He stopped, squatting on the ceiling, watching as the blue-skinned mutant dangled from his tail. If she hadn’t already been blue she definitely would have turned that colour as she struggled to breathe.
She twisted, trying to get a foothold somewhere, but Kurt had perched far from the walls. He just watched on dispassionately as she clawed at the tail coiled around her throat.
“Oh my God!” Kitty gasped. “He’s gonna kill her!” There were similar echoes from the others, but Kurt’s expression, his pose, his intent, didn’t change.
Essex watched on, obviously impressed with his creation.
“For God’s sake, Essex!” Charles implored. “The boy’s a Catholic! You can’t let him stain his immortal soul like this!”
Essex arched a brow, casting his eyes for a moment at the mutant at his side. The smirk on his face showing that maybe that was just what he had in mind. Finally he turned his attention back to the grisly scene in front of him.
“Nightcrawler…” He warned softly. Kurt’s golden eyes turned towards him. “Later…”
He growled, baring his fangs in annoyance. But his tail’s grip on Mystique’s neck loosened, letting the malicious shape-shifter slump to the floor. Kurt released his hold on the ceiling, twisted in mid air as he dropped, landing silently on his feet. Mystique cowered away from the boy, who was still watching her with that same blank expression.
Wanda stepped forward this time, another collar in her hands. Kurt’s head turned towards her as she handed him the device. The fact that Wanda was smiling at the blue-furred mutant was surprising enough, but coupled with her heavily lidded eyes it looked almost seductive. Though Kurt showed no reaction to Wanda’s obvious ‘come hither’ look, Todd was bristling. Wanda’s subtle caress of his back as he stooped to lock the collar around his mother’s neck had him fuming.
The task completed, Kurt rose, and with Wanda, strolled almost casually, back to his place with the other branded mutants. Mystique whimpered slightly as she touched the cold metal at her throat, her eyes never leaving the even colder look on the face of her son.
“Why so surprised, Raven?” Essex cooed at her. “Surely you must know how much your son despises you.”
“Man…” Lance whispered as he leaned towards Fred, his eyes never leaving Kurt’s face. “Remind me not to piss him off…”
“Tell me about it…” Fred replied. “I never knew blue boy could do somethin’ like that.”
“Believe me…” Todd growled. “Fur ball’s got a temper when he wants it…”
“Guess he inherited more that just his Mom’s colouring…” Lance muttered.
Kitty began to sob quietly, and Lance wished he could get closer to her, offer her some comfort. He knew she had a strong bond with her blue-furred friend, and though he knew it wasn’t at all romantic, he was still jealous of it. The pair were closer than he and Kitty would ever be.
Kitty whimpered, and tried desperately to stop her weeping. Lance frowned and cast his eyes towards her. She looked terrified. He followed her line of sight and could see why. Kurt was looking straight at her, that same unnerving expressionless expression on his face. One clawed foot slid forward, stopping as Essex’ scarlet eyes locked with his golden ones. Essex arched a brow, a slow smile curling his face. Kurt’s own brow arched in return.
Charles frowned as Kurt’s attention turned from Essex. His frown deepened when he saw Pietro exhale deeply and roll his eyes. Wanda’s ever present frown deepened, her dark eyes flashed with genuine annoyance. David raised an eyebrow and the other girl folded her arms across his chest.
Kurt then slinked forward, still moving like the predator Essex believed him to be. His glowing eyes were now locked with Kitty’s, the girl looking for all the world like a deer caught in the headlights. Lance bristled as the blue-furred mutant drew close, as if he could see something in Kurt’s body language that the others couldn’t…or wouldn’t.
“Don’t even think about it!” He growled.
Kurt’s eyes turned towards him, his expression still didn’t change, but he began to flex his clawed fingers, itching for another fight.
His fists clenched, Lance took a step forward, happy to oblige, but Fred held him back. He glared at the huge mutant. “You told me not to let you piss him of, remember?” He hissed at him.
“But…” Lance began.
He snarled and lunged for Kurt as the glowing-eyed mutant’s hand flashed out and snared Kitty’s wrist. She screamed at the look in those glowing eyes, taking a step back despite his iron-like grip. Kurt’s eyes flicked towards the incoming Lance, who hit the floor as he sailed through the spot where he’d been. Lance punched the floor when he realised both Kitty and the newly twisted mutant were gone.
“He took out six of your number…including Wolverine and Mystique…” Essex smiled. “The boy’s earned a little fun…”