X-Men Evolution NEXT

Vanguard

Rushing through the brush, Mastermind stumbles and ducks as he sprints away from the Xavier estate walls. He glances behind him watching for any who may be pursuing him, but finds himself distracted by the constant dense brush ahead of him. His foot snags a loose root tripping him to the ground. He lands on his stomach hard and slides just a bit on the leaves and dirt before coming to a full painful stop. He groans out slightly as stands back up brushing himself off as Gambit's voice speaks up from behind him, "Lookin' as graceful as always, Mastermind."

"Do not mock me, Gambit, "Mastermind darts out, "and stay out of my way."

Gambit chuckles and asks, "What be the hurry, mon ami?"

Dusting off the rest of the leaves and dirt, Mastermind replies, "I don't know what Magneto has gotten me into, but if you were smart, you'd disappear as well."

Looking around and checking their surroundings, Gambit remarks, "Dat number ya did to Allan seemed to have worked. Remy saw everthing, ya took him out."

"You fool!" Mastermind adds, "I did nothing but open the flood gates of chaos! I probed and tapped the wrong areas of his mind, and now something is loose."

"What're ya talkin' 'bout? What came loose?" Gambit asks.

Mastermind starts walking quickly as Gambit follows him through the wooded area. Mastermind continues, "It is power unlike anything we have ever seen. Apocalypse pales in comparison to this. It was as though I was looking into the eyes of a god."

Gambit laughs and says, "Gimme a break, old man."

"Laugh now young fool," Mastermind adds, "but this time Magneto has made an enemy out of the wrong person. And there will be retribution, if not from this Allan, then from somewhere else. Magneto, I fear, knows this and says nothing."

"Yeah, well, either way, we get paid." Gambit replies.

He suddenly stops and turns around quickly looking behind him. He turns to Mastermind and says, "Get to de transport spheres, now!"

As Gambit quickly adjusts his position turning around, Wolverine comes lunging out of some near by thick brush, roaring out like a wild animal. Gambit steps back but is caught off guard as Wolverine tackles him to the ground forcing him to his back. Gambit thrusts his knees into Wolverine's stomach and kicks him over head. Wolverine tucks and rolls sliding back to his feet then quickly turns around into a solid stance. He holds both of his arms downward extending his metal claws as he says, "I'll take care of the swamp rat here. The rest of you go after Mastermind." looking over Gambit's shoulder.

Gambit glances behind him and see the young X-Men glaring at him. Cyclops orders out, "Let's move X-Men!"

Iceman, Shadowcat and Nightcrawler follow his lead into the wooded area after Mastermind. Gambit reaches into his trench coat and pulls out a short metal rod. With a flik of a switch the rod extends into a six foot quarter staff. He steps back into ready fighting stance as he grins at Wolverine saying, "Just say when, mon ami."

Rogue opens her eyes and finds herself sitting on a park bench looking out at a playground. Children run around the assortment of rides playing games and laughing out in the beautiful weather. She looks around slowly, unsure of what she is actually seeing. The trees are greenest she had ever seen, the air is so clean it almost has a sweet scent to it. Rogue looks down on her lap and notices a book resting under her hands. She holds the book up and reads the engraved title, 'Beside You'. Opening the book to the first page, Rogue reads the first quote, 'True paradise is in the moment'. She begins to flip through the first few pages skimming the text and realizes it is describing every moment she had interacted with Allan. From the first moment she saw him on his motorcycle by the stoplight, to the moment she walked away from him after seeing Allison in his room. As she reads every word, she feels the sensations and emotions she had felt during those moments, as though she is reliving it. Rogue stands up and holds the book close to her chest as she turns to look behind her. Her expression turns to shock and awe as she steps back slowly looking at a massive cityscape. Buildings tower extremely high into the sky made of a shiny material that reflects the sunlight to the ground below. Charles's voice speaks up behind her, "Beautiful city, is it not?"

Rogue turns around and sees Charles standing, watching the children play. She asks, "Professor, are you walking?"

Charles smiles and replies, "Physical limitations do not apply in this place, unless you believe it so."

"So, this place isn't real? We're not really here?" Rogue inquires.

"This place, is very much real, Rogue." Charles adds, "And you are very much here. I have connected your mind to Allan's. Your thoughts will be shared so your perception may change from time to time. But at the moment, you are in Allan's thoughts."

Rogue smiles and says, "So this place, this city, he made it up in his mind?"

Charles replies, "Not really, Rogue. It is a memory, of one of his favorite spots in the city where he is from. Since you are not a telepath, I had to find something in his mind that was somewhat solid for you to latch on to. I must remain here to maintain your connection. This city is now his mind, his thought, emotions and other memories are hidden here. Find your bond with him, save his humanity."

"How, Professor?" Rogue asks, "Ah don't even know what he is."

"The answers will come, Rogue," Charles adds, "But they cannot come from me."

Another voice speaks up and says, "Those answers will come from me."

Charles smiles and walks away toward where the kids and families are in the park as Rogue turns around. She sees Allan standing casually in the grass barefoot wearing only a pair of jeans and a loose t-shirt. Rogue smiles and starts to walk over to him but stops short as she looks into his eyes. She notices his eyes seem cold, devoid of emotion, and do not blink. She quickly says, "You're not Allan."

He replies, "You are correct. I, or we, are your interpreted thoughts and emotions. This is the image to which your psyche is most comfortable. We will guide you. In order for you to do what needs be done, questions must be asked, answers must be given. So, speak."

Rogue takes a breath and asks, "What is he?"

"He, is the second being to be called the Vanguard." He answers, "Allan is our eyes, ears and hands. He is our representative, our protector, our witness, and our wrath. He was chosen during conception, ordained at birth, and fully manifested at adulthood."

He starts walking away from the park towards the sidewalk as Rogue follows closely. She remarks, "Ok, that really didn't make any sense. So who are you?"

He stops and looks at her saying, "We speak to you in this form, or would rather us speak to you as we are."

All around the street, strange looking beings of all shapes, sizes and color imaginable appear. Some floating or standing on air, other stand on the street. Rogue looks at what seems to be countless millions of them, all looking at her. They speak all at once in a near deafening tone, "We, are the first beings, those who have ascended beyond the laws of the physical. He represents us."

Rogue covers her ears and replies, "WHOA! Ok, Ah get it, one voice please!" as she slightly smiles, "So what exactly did he do for you, um, people?"

The Allan visage speaks up while the others remain silent, "What he does, is not for us but for all who exist."

They walk up to a large window of an appliance store. He points to some old fashion television sets displayed in the window, each one showing different images of Allan wearing his unique uniform performing some kind of task. Rogue watches the images intensely. She sees Allan fighting titanic battles with monstrous creatures of equal power, saving entire civilizations from mass extinctions, re-igniting stars to save solar systems, and bearing witness to dying worlds. Rogue looks at the Allan visage and says, "If he's capable of doin' all that, then why does he need me?"

He glances back at her with his cold eyes and replies, "The first Vanguard was a perfect being. Absolute logic, absolute knowledge, but no true conscience about life. That became his demise, as well as the demise of countless billions. All universes are in constant chaos. And in order to ensure the safety of such, one must be just as chaotic. We found humans to carry their own amount of chaos. Their conflicting emotions and thier struggle for self balance, made our decision easy. Allan is in danger of losing that chaos. His duties have begun to wear his emotions thin. Despite all his power, he is still human. He has shed tears for those he had failed or was unable to save. But no longer, now they haunt him. You share the same chaos as he, and your bond with him is the only thing keeping his chaotic heart human."

Rogue replies, "Look, Ah don't know what bond you think we have but…"

The Allan visage speaks sternly, "To deny such emotions only puts him in further danger. But then again, that is what it means to human, to be chaos. So we leave his fate, in your hands." as he points to her book, then fades away with the rest of the beings around her.

Rogue clutches her book closely as she looks up and down the empty sidewalk. She sits herself on a bus stop bench place the book in her lap and sighs out.

Gambit barely dodges Wolverine's last attack as he land like a cat a few feet away from him. He holds his side with a painful expression covering his latest wound from Wolverines sharp claws, Gambit glances at the three distinct cuts on his left side as it slightly bleeds. Wolverine grins at him and says, "You're good, boy. But I get better, you don't."

"Can't argue wit dat," Gambit replies with another grin, "But dats why Gambit always carries an ace up his sleeve."

He pull out a deck of cards and begins to charge up with his mutant ability. Then he swings his arm out throwing the cards in an arcing manner over Wolverine's head. Slightly ducking his head, Wolverine grins at Gambit and says, "Nice bluff, but I call."

Gambit grins back and says, "Think again, mon ami." as he looks over Wolverines head.

Wolverine quickly glances behind him and notices the energized cards embedded into trees. Before he can act, Gambit remarks, "Bang, you're dead." as the cards detonate at the same time.

Wood splinters and thick branches come crashing down on Wolverine's head knocking him to the ground. Then the trunks of the trees snap and land on him with loud thumps as he is buried underneath. Gambit slowly gets to his feet bracing himself up with his battered quarter staff and quickly hobbles out of sight.

Mastermind dives to the ground as Cyclops's optic blast rips close by obliterating a couple of small trees. Scrambling to his feet, Mastermind's trench coat is suddenly impaled to the ground by long ice spikes. Iceman yells out, "Got him!"

He approaches Mastermind boldly and grins at him. Slipping out of his trench coat quickly, Mastermind crawls and turns onto his back looking at Iceman. He glares at Iceman intently and says, "Defend me."

A sudden push against his thoughts, Iceman stops in his places with a confused expression. Those two words all of a sudden made sense as he replies, "Sure. Ok."

Iceman turns around and spots his team mates rushing up to position. Waving his hands outward, he freezes the immediate area in thick layer if ice. Cyclops loses his footing on the ice and slips hitting a tree. Shadowcat falls victim to the sudden change in terrain as she also slips. She slides rapidly and manages to phase through some frozen pushes and trees. Nightcrawler teleports avoiding the icy trap and appears in front of Iceman. He yells out, "Vhat are you doing, man!"

"I don't know, dude!" Iceman replies in confusion.

Cyclops yells out, "Nightcrawler, Matermind must've gotten to his head! Get Iceman clear of here before he does any more damage!"

Nightcrawler grabs hold of Iceman's arms and replies, "On it!" as he teleports both himself and Iceman out of the wooded area.

Mastermind takes advantage of the confusion getting to his feet and continues to sprint to the transport spheres. He runs without looking back into a clearing in the woods. Sitting on the ground in front of him, two silver like spheres await with the tops open. Mastermind quickly leaps into one of them fumbling his body into the seat inside violently. Then with a sudden jerk of his body, Mastermind is slowly lifted out of the sphere by an invisible force. He hovers over the craft as he struggles against the hold. Jean floats down in front of him with her hand extend out. She glares at Mastermind and says, "Not this time. Tells us what you did to Allan!"

Mastermind looks back at her as she floats in front of him replying, "Release me child, or I will have choice but to do the same to you!"

Jean feels a push against her mind, but she manages to push back. She struggles and says, "Alright, if you won't say anything, then lets get you to think it."

Jean focuses her thoughts into Mastermind's thoughts and searches his mind for the answer to her question. Mastermind fights back, but his exhaustion has taken it's toll on him and he lets his guards down allowing Jean to dig deeper into his mind. Her mind is suddenly filled with imagery of exploding worlds, hordes of dying people and the feeling of power that dwarfs a star. Mastermind tries focusing his mind to defend himself, but is overwhelmed by the image of bright angelic wings of fire. He screams out loudly as Jean loses concentration and drops Mastermind back into the sphere. She looks at him, her expression very confused as he cries out, "You're like him! You're like him! Please forgive me! Forgive my sin, I beg you!" as he looks at her with fear in his eyes.

The sphere suddenly seals shut, and rapidly lifts off the ground hitting Jean like a car in traffic. She is clocked upward against her chest and chin knocking her to the ground. The sphere silently speeds off into the sky out of her sight. The second sphere closes and follows. Jean lays on the ground rubbing her chin as Cyclops rushes to her side. "Jean, are you alright?" he asks.

"I'm fine Scott," she replies as she slowly gets to her feet, "Mastermind got away."

Stumbling through the woods looking pretty roughed up, Wolverine adds, "So did the Cajun. Those slippery rats."

Looking at Jean, Wolverine asks, "What happened? I couldn't see much, but I could've sworn you had him. What was he ramblin' about?"

"I don't know, I was trying to read his mind, and I guess I lost concentration." Jean replies.

Wolverine adds, "Well, what'd you see in his head?"

Cyclops quickly says, "Whoa, what's with the interrogation, Logan? He got away, bottom line."

"You're right," Wolverine says nodding his head, "Find the others and head back to the mansion."

Jean looks at Wolverine cautiously as she follows Cyclops back into the woods. Wolverine follows her with his eyes, then slowly looks down as he catches his breath.

Rogue wanders the city streets of Allan's mind clutching her book closely. She can't help but look around at the futuristic scenery. The roads surface is almost a window like smoothness with street markings glowing from beneath it. Road signs float like ghosts, somewhat translucent, yet readable. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes move about in a quiet and orderly manner. She passes other pedestrians, all who's faces seem blurred out. Accepted for one, and yet this face barely has any facial features what so ever. Kind of a intimating figure, standing nearly twelve feet tall and about six feet wide, with indigo blue skin and yellow glowing eyes, he is the only clear figure Rogue can really make out. She approaches him, and despite his monstrous size, she can't help but smile. The large blue man is dressed as an ice cream man. His large bulking frame stretches his bright colored outfit as the small paper hat sits firmly on his bald shiny blue head. He looks at Rogue with a smile and greets her, "Well hello. Looks like you could use a nice cold icy fruit on this nice warm day."

She smiles and replies, "Ah know you, Ah think you're Allan's roommate or something back where he's from. He showed me a picture of you on his computer. What was your name again? It was Kal, right?"

The large blue man smiles saying, "Actually my name is Kalurey Vis Xuihon zu Xaikonish. But of it helps, you can just call me Kal."

"You look a lot bigger than you do in the picture." Rogue remarks as she looks up at him.

"That may be true," Kal replies, "Then again, this could be how he chooses to remember me."

Rogue says, "Well, if you're a part of Allan's memories, then where is he?"

Kal pulls out an icy fruit and hands it to Rogue saying, "Oh, he's around here, somewhere. I mean, he's here, but not really here, I guess."

Rogue gives him a baffled expression as he continues, "Um, look I have a schedule to keep here, so I really can't answer all your question at this time. But if you want some real answers, I'd check out the Downtown Museum of Antiquities." as he points over her shoulder.

Rogue turns around and sees a building with tall columns reaching almost twelve stories. Kal adds, "I hear the tour guide inside is very knowledgeable. I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for."

She watches Kal push his ice cream cart up the sidewalk ringing the bell and greeting other people as they pass. Rogue looks at the building and makes her way there quickly. She approaches the steps and is further dwarfed by the size of the columns by the entrance. The building is made of complete stone, down to the automatically opening doors that stand four stories tall. She walks in with wide eyes as she sees large replicas of extinct animals, holographic images of far exotic locations and a large water fountain in the center of the lobby holding up a globe with its splashing water pumps. Rogue walks up to the tour guide information board and reads down the list, 'The Art of History', 'Labors and Duties', 'Dedication to Family', 'Heroes or Monsters'.

Rogue is intrigued with the 'Heroes or Monsters' tour, and heads off to catch up with that particular group. She sees a crowd of blurred faced people standing around a large man. Rogue approaches and is surprised to see Kal standing in front of her, wearing a full suit with a tie. His name tag reads 'I am your tour guide, Kal'. Rogue smiles and asks, "You're a tour guide too? Ah thought you were an ice cream man."

Kal adjusts his tie a bit and replies, "That is just one of my jobs, like this one. And you're just in time, the tour is about to begin."

Rogue inquires, "So, what's this tour about anyway? This is still Allan's mind."

"Right you are, new girl friend." Kal says with a smile, "Yes I know who you are. Your image is on the tour." as he and the blurred face crowd clap and cheer her.

Rogue smiles bashfully and waves as the tour begins. They wander the long halls of painting, sculptures and lifelike replicas of Allan's exploits as the Vanguard. Kal speaks out to the crowd around Rogue giving complete details of the Allan's tragic beginning from his mother's death giving birth to him, to his life growing up different with his widowed father, to his defining self expressions during his immediate college years, finally to the full manifestation of his true power only a few years ago. Kal walks the tour into a chamber where life sizes replicas and reenactments of Allan's time as the Vanguard are displayed. One by one, each visual comes alive showing his battles, his deeds and his failures. Rogue watches as Allan, in his unique uniform, battles a large bulking creature in the ruins of a city. The battle is fierce and brutal as both Allan and the creature trade titanic blows and strikes. Kal speaks ups, "As you can see, one of the Vanguard's many duties, is keeping the balance of powers in all the universes. Even if it means he must take extreme measure to do so." as the images of Allan and the creature come to a climatic finish.

Allan thrusts his fist through the creature's chest crushing it's heart. Rogue covers her mouth at the sight of the creatures insides spilling out of the cavity Allan caused. The creature collapses like a slaughtered animal and begins to glow brightly. Allan stands over the carcass with his hands out to his side as the glowing light travels into Allan's body. Then with a sudden burst, the light envelopes him a large column light blue energy reaching up into the sky rapidly. The clouds part as the beam of light disappears into the night sky. The creature carcass disintegrates as Allan falls to his knees breathing hard.

Kal remarks, "Now from what I'm told, ladies and gentlemen, that is not a good feeling. What you all just saw, is the re-distributing of the power that once inhabited that dead creature. One of the duties of the Vanguard, is to judge, govern, or kill beings like himself."

Kal looks at Rogue and adds, "Not all the creatures he battles are monsters. And not all the monsters he encounters are evil. Just like, not all the worlds he has seen and tried to save, are supposed to be saved." as he points to a scene of Allan kneeling in a field of ashes.

Rogue looks at the scene with sad eyes watching Allan sob over the loss of those he once called friends. The scene plays back as she watch the faceless alien species die. Each one begging him to save their children. Allan holds a single child in his arms cradling it closely, then watching it die with the others around him. Another begs him for life, but all Allan could say was, "I'm not allowed, this is beyond my power. Forgive me."

As the last being dies and fades into ashes, Allan falls to his knees and begins to cry loudly. He slams his fist into the ground, collapsing the buildings around him. Rogue can feel his distress and walks into the scene to him. She kneels down to him and removes his helmet slowly. Allan's eyes are filled with tears as she asks, "What happened here Allan?"

He says in a low tone, "They were a dying species, at the last of their genetic peak. Their world was evolving and their bodies couldn't handle the change. I'm not allowed to interfere with the natural evolution of worlds. So I had to watch them die, one by one. Just so all of them would be remembered."

Rogue holds him tightly as she hugs him with tears in her eyes. She stands him up looking into his eyes saying, "This is not your fault, Allan. Ah can feel you holdin' on to this moment. And it's hurtin' me too. You gotta let it go."

Allan tries glancing around at the morbid scene, but Rogue holds his face firmly towards hers saying, "Allan don't, please, don't turn away."

She grabs her book off the ground and hands it to Allan. He lightly takes the book and begins flipping through the pages. Allan begins to smile as Rogue now finds herself suddenly standing over the peer back in Bayville. The sun is slowly going down as she looks up into Allan's eyes. He gazes back into her eyes and says, "You've held on to this moment."

She replies as she reaches up caressing his face with her bare hands, "Ah wanted to kiss you so badly at this point. More so than Ah wanted to in the Danger Room."

"Why didn't you?" Allan asks.

Their faces close, Rogue says, "Ah guess, Ah was afraid, that it might lead to somethin' else."

Allan leans in closer and kisses her passionately. Rogue lightly moans as she embraces him as they lock lips. She feels the ground beneath her feet disappear as she finds herself floating among the stars. The warmth of light and coolness space flow around and through her body. She reaches out to Allan as the energy around her embraces her body completely. Her voices echoes into the forever like sky as she says, 'I won't let you fall.'

Rogue's eyes slowly open to the sight of the Danger Room chamber wall. She blinks rapidly then looks over at Charles. He sits back in his chair blinking his eyes as well. Then she looks down at Allan, who lays on the floor before her. Rogue leans forward looking him over. Allan slowly opens his eyes and mutters out, "I already have." as he smiles at her.

She smiles back as they embrace on the Danger Room floor. Charles smiles at them both. He glimpses up at the command center above and notices Jean peeking over out the window with a concerned expression on her face. Charles lightly nods his head and quietly whispers out to himself, "So, now begins the journey."


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