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"A Test of Power"

A Test of Power

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9

(This story is in progress.)

A Test of Power

Chapter 8

Everywhere there is one principle of justice,
which is the interest of the stronger.
The Republic, ca. 390 B.C.

The present

He might have been a tourist, or a laborer, or just an average resident of the city out for an afternoon walk -- his appearance divulged nothing remarkable. In his present guise, no one could possibly surmise that the mutant tyrant Apocalypse walked among them. It was even less likely that they could deduce that he was enjoying the beautiful day as much as they did -- possibly even more.

With senses both common with those around him, and with perceptions rare even among the most powerful mutants, Apocalypse was thoroughly invigorated by his surroundings. The basis for his enjoyment was because he possessed a visual acuity beyond the norm, and could see the humans that inhabited this city -- truly see them.

Long ago, he found that he could attune his senses and observe those around him and distinguish that they were not just flesh and blood creatures, but beings of energy and light. A more devout individual or even someone with a finite lifespan might have attributed some divine significance to this. Apocalypse supposed that this could be called wishful thinking. After all, the existence of a soul would have been the confirmation of eternal life and it had been his experience that the vast majority of humanity wanted to -- continue.

He had ample opportunity to observe many of the Egyptian priests during the early part of his life, and listen to them espouse nothing but self-serving nonsense. The narrow minded fools were too dogmatic to even acknowledge other views. Apocalypse believed that most theologians were alike, and if they could see what he would have been all the proof they believed they needed to triumph over more secular thinkers in their age old debate. But Apocalypse saw no omnipotent or heavenly connection at all. Because of one of his own specific mutant abilities, he thought of the human spirit as simply something that powered the human machine, a battery of sorts. He held more steadfast to this opinion after he found out that he could also feel and experience this anima, even making it a part of himself...greatly augmenting his own power. Perhaps it was just the physical manifestation of that abstract concept that represented life.

Apocalypse would never be confused as a philosopher, but he had a perspective and abilities at his disposal that all the great sages could only dream of. As long as he had been alive, he never tired of seeing it, -- the human spirit, this heart of consciousness. His appreciation of that transcendental beauty never wavered or lessened. And in a populace city, he gladly immersed himself in that ambient pulchritude.

He could also turn his mind's eye inward, and see and control every aspect of his being, down to the smallest components -- the fundamental building blocks of matter. He was even able to control anything that he consumed or his body broke down and metabolized -- anything that became a part of him he could control. With every inhalation, air molecules would be broken into its constituents, once part of him, they would respond to his direction. Energy was available to him in such great quantities because of his mutant ability.

During the first few years that Sinister had worked for Apocalypse, Sinister's curiosity about Apocalypse's mutation was boundless. Exposed to undreamed of science and technology in Apocalypse's employ, Sinister had all the tools to aid him in his relentless quest for knowledge. He had asked an endless stream of questions -- What did Apocalypse see with his minds eye? How was he able to grow to such proportions? Where did the great energies he could manifest come from?

Apocalypse was no fool. He recognized that Sinister was not a common lap dog and would eventually attempt use any information he learned against Apocalypse. That was one of the reasons why he had chosen him. He wanted someone who could not be broken -- someone with a strength of will that approached his own, and he was not disappointed. Sinister was truly brilliant and had exceeded all of Apocalypse's expectations. In his relatively short life span, he had tried to kill Apocalypse several times.

But the threat that Sinister posed to Apocalypse, was overshadowed by his curiosity about his own mutation. Apocalypse himself simply did not know what he was. So he answered a great majority of Sinister's questions, and Sinister in turn with tireless research and with the aid of Celestial equipment, was able to deduce much about the nature of matter and how that related to Apocalypse's mutation. Sinister was incredibly able to accomplish this in just a few short months.

Sinister had explained to an incredulous Apocalypse that solid matter, what we stand on, what bears the weight of a mountain, is actually empty space. Sinister described that what Apocalypse saw with his minds eye were atoms and the smaller constituents that comprised all atoms were sub-atomic particles. These particles revolved around the center or nucleus much the same way planets revolved around the sun. To illustrate this void, he said that if we could scale the nucleus of an atom to four inches, the surrounding electron cloud would be several miles away and the gap between, nothing but gloriously empty space. The solidity of iron is actually 99.9999999999999 percent vacuous space made to feel solid by ethereal fields of force having no material reality at all. It was that ethereal field of force, that binding energy, that Apocalypse could snap like a rubber band releasing a colossal burst of energy. Even that imprisoned energy, suddenly liberated, its desire for entropy finally realized, was submissive to Apocalypse's will and obeyed his every whim.

Apocalypse clearly remembered when Sinister had calculated the strength of these bonds, quantified the energy. His expression was one of awe and respect for what Apocalypse could control. The shear magnitude of power that Apocalypse literally had at his fingertips was almost unimaginable. Almost a half a century later, a few human physicists show would the world the destructive might of splitting the atom.

Apocalypse turned down a quiet street leaving the crowds behind and immediately noticed a marked change in his surroundings. The affluence in this area was palpable and the buildings were untainted by weather or pollutants. Even the cobblestone streets were scrubbed clean, the surface smooth, making the dull color gleam in the midday sun. This section of the city had changed very little over the past fifty years yet still looked brand new. It had escaped much of the necessary rebuilding that just about all of London had gone through due to Hitler's relentless V-2 rocket salvos. The pristine condition and upkeep of this area was a direct testament to the reach and longevity of the Hellfire Club.

Apocalypse stopped in front of a particularly extravagant mansion. He smiled to himself and thought, those who believe that the protection afforded to them by membership within this group that symbolized affluence, excess, and power -- they will soon learn the true meaning of power. Money is their refuge, but history has shown more often than not that a safe haven proves to be a target more often than a sanctuary.

He walked up the burnished marble steps to the two large mahogany doors, its ornately carved surface polished clean belaying its age and exposure to the elements. He grasped the ornamental door handle, noticing even its superior quality, and walked into a large opulent lobby. Aged paintings that appeared to be original art adorned the walls. Finely detailed sculptures sat atop multiple pedestals and were scattered about giving the room more of the feel of an art museum than a simple reception area. The room's sole occupant was a striking young woman who sat behind an antique desk, but the desktop by contrast was covered with the modern technology of the day.

"May I help you sir?" she asked, greeting him with a warm smile. She lightly tapped the keyboard of her computer, long fingers with finely manicured nails were ready to input a name to confirm an appointment.

Apocalypse ignored her, and headed directly to a set closed doors, which were partially obscured behind a spiral staircase that led to another level.

"Sir, that area is off limits." Her voice lost all of its warmth and contained a commanding tone that was surprising for someone of her age.

She reached under the table and other doors immediately opened almost in tandem with her movement. Five heavily armed men entered the room brandishing firearms.

"Get away from that door buddy," the lead man barked. "You're on private property and we're authorized to use lethal force."

Apocalypse continued to head towards the doors, heedless of the security teams orders.

"Can you believe this asshole? Johnson, shoot him in the leg." The leader said it loud enough to perhaps dissuade the intruder from going any further. The man hadn't even turned around let alone stopped. As the intruder reached the door, Johnson fired his nine millimeter handgun once, aiming for the man's calf. He was certain that he hit the trespasser but the man exhibited no reaction that he had been hit.

It was quite possible that the man possessed some type of body armor the team leader quickly assessed. But his instincts told him that this wasn't a human covered in armor. "We've probably got us a mutant here, open up with everything you've got," he ordered. The entire team began shooting, concentrating their fire on the man's head as they had been trained to do.

Bullets struck the intended target but were deflected and ricocheted all around the room as Apocalypse reached locked doors. He drove his hands into the small juncture between the two heavy oak doors, and somehow gained a purchase and casually tore them both off the steel hinges. He passed through the doorway which led to a long corridor, completely indifferent to the screams coming from the room he had just exited.

"Cease firing," the team leader screamed. He quickly glanced around the room and saw that the receptionist and two of his men were either wounded or dead. His suspicions about the nature of the intruder were unfortunately confirmed. He reached into a shirt pocket and pressed a button on a communication device designed for just this contingency. It immediately informed other forces that a hostile mutant or super-powered being had entered the premises.

Apocalypse unhurriedly walked down the hallway seemingly oblivious to any resistance or pursuit he might encounter. At the end of the corridor, four men stepped into view. Three of the men were armed with some type of energy rifle. The fourth man carried no visible weapon but was clearly in charge as the other men trailed a few paces behind him.

"Pierce, isn't it?" Apocalypse demanded more than asked.

"Yup," Pierce answered not sounding all that surprised. "Are you a member of my fan club because I don't know you? So why don't you tell me who you are and why you're here so my trigger happy friends don't barbeque your ass for lunch."

Apocalypse continued his deliberate pace down the hallway disregardful of Pierce's warning.

"Well I gave it a try," Pierce said smiling, satisfied with his effort. "You see my talkative friend, I really don't give a damn about what you want or who you are."

"That's unfortunate," the intruder rumbled. "If you knew who I was, you would leave this place and never look back."

Pierce felt a chill run through him at the man's boldness considering his circumstances. "Waste this bastard," Pierce said through clenched teeth.

All three men fired their energy weapons simultaneously, striking their target squarely in the chest. The man's march forward was not altered in direction or pace. There wasn't even a burn mark on the man's jacket. All three men looked to Pierce, similar expressions of disbelief on their faces.

Pierce watched as the man's hand suddenly changed shape transforming into something that resembled oversized metal gardening shears. Then more swiftly than Pierce could imagine the man's arm lengthened and shot across the distance that separated them. He barely had time to raise his robotic arm in order to deflect the attack. The man's arm smashed through Pierce's attempt to defend himself and he was knocked painfully into one of the walls. Staggered by the impact, it took him a moment to fully determine what had occurred.

Pierce was wide eyed with terror as he found himself pinned against the wall and felt the cutting edge of the shears slice into his neck. Panic stricken and screaming like a frightened child, he attempted to pry the scissored fingers apart to keep them from severing his neck. Pierce looked down the barrel of an absurd looking arm, its out of proportion length almost comical. But there was nothing comical about the cold and aloof eyes boring into his own, without a shred of compassion or mercy. The pain and his voice reached a crescendo and mercifully for Pierce, everything went suddenly dark.

The three security men stood transfixed for a moment as the telescoping arm shot by them ramming into Pierce. Pierce's neck was wedged between two prongs that were somehow attached or part of the man's arm, and were stuck in the wall trapping him there. He clawed futilely trying to extricate himself but only succeeded in nicking and tearing his skin creating wounds which began to bleed profusely. His screams became higher and higher pitched as he realized that he could not escape. The horrified men watched as the razor-edged prongs slowly closed and a sound like the snapping of a wet towel preceded Pierce's head separating completely from his shoulders. Pierce's head hit the rug with a dull thump and rolled a fair distance before coming to a stop at the feet of Pierce's security team. The men, paralyzed by fear, could barely bring themselves to glance down at their feet. Pierce's head stared up at them with a terrified expression that mirrored their own . What was even more gruesome to the men was the sight of Pierce's headless body, still standing upright, while blood rhythmically fountained from his neck. Pierce's heart was still beating, as the remaining fluid in his body painted a red death shroud and cascaded down the wall.

All three men dropped their weapons and ran in terror as the creature retracted its arm with barely a sound, and reformed suddenly to a very normal sized limb and ordinary looking hand.

Apocalypse could sense two powerful mutants far beneath his present level. He reached down to what appeared to be a belt buckle shaped like a capital A, but was in reality a Celestial matter-energy transport device. He activated it and was conveyed to his desired location.

He materialized in a large cavern, impressed by the size of this hidden facility under the streets of London. He chuckled to himself and wondered how many other people maintained secret bases under this city.

Apocalypse knew that this was a training facility of sorts where the mutants in this clandestine organization could use, practice and hone unique abilities, unseen by the general populace. It was also used to house Sentinels. Apocalypse knew this because he was calmly standing beneath one at this very moment. But strangely enough the Sentinel was not what had his attention. Two paintings, conspicuously hung on a bare rock wall at eye level, were presently the focus of Apocalypse's scrutiny.

Just then Sebastian Shaw and his personal assistant Tessa rounded a rock wall, and were both somewhat startled by his presence. Shaw quickly recovered and addressed the intruder coolly. "Do you like the paintings?" Shaw asked genuinely curious noticing the man's interest. "Forgive me, but judging from the preliminary reports I received, you don't strike me as a lover of fine art. I assume," Shaw pointed to the roof of the cavern, "you're responsible for the disturbance upstairs."

There was no reaction from the stranger. He hadn't even turned around in response to Shaw's question, seemingly engrossed at what he was looking at. He used the man's distraction to issue a few instructions to Tessa.

"The one on the left is a favorite of mine. It's a Baroque period piece," Shaw explained. "You can tell by the extreme use of light and shadow," he continued enthusiastically. "The first piece of real art I ever possessed. The Return of the Prodigal Son, an original by Rembrandt Van Rijn. An original, like all my works of art," Shaw said with a tone and pompous smile that the rich universally used to assert their superiority over those they deemed inadequate. Shaw was only trying to provoke some type of reaction from the stranger, but he refused to acknowledge Shaw's presence. Shaw though, was not insulted. He found this all rather amusing, a welcome distraction.

Tessa telepathically informed Shaw that she scanned some of the security personnel upstairs and that Pierce had been killed -- beheaded in fact.

His face immediately lost its smug smile and was replaced by a grim and displeased expression. "Show me," Shaw said aloud.

A low chuckle emerged from the stranger who spoke to Shaw for the first time. "Don't let what the mind-witch related to you ruin your good spirits. You asked about the paintings. Does the painting in some way remind you of your relationship with your father Jacob Shaw ... before he became weak and died? Or perhaps it was a present from the late Senorita Chantel for certain ... favors?"(1)

Shaw's face flushed with indignation, his control slipping for a moment, and then just as quickly, he exerted a rigid control over his emotions. The strangers voice -- disturbed Shaw on some level, an impossibly deep baritone that clearly was one of power. Through his link and without any delay, he instructed Tessa to alert Selene and have her join them immediately. He saw how easily Pierce was dispatched and wanted Selene on hand before he disposed of this impudent intruder.

"You seem well informed," Shaw said with a cruel edge in his voice. "You obviously have a particular interest in the details of my past, why?" Shaw demanded threateningly.

"It was the other painting that caught my eye," Apocalypse finally turned and faced Shaw completely ignoring Shaw's question. "A painting detailing the Salem witch trials Shaw? No doubt you feel some type of affinity between the persecution these people were subjected to and what mutants face today."

"Perhaps," Shaw answered coolly. The stranger had an intensity about him which only added to his agitation.

"Yet you have a pet Sentinel. How curious," Apocalypse said grinning broadly.

It was Shaw's turn to ignore the man's question and goading tone. "Why do you find this painting so fascinating?"

"The six woman depicted in this painting, were all hung on Gallows Hill, the day before I was tried and convicted of witchcraft," Apocalypse answered.

"You wear your age well," Shaw responded dubiously. "This was painted in 1693."

"I refused to enter a plea to the charges of witchcraft leveled against me," Apocalypse answered disregarding Shaw's sarcasm. "The Sheriffs administered something called Piene Forte Et Durre -- pressing. I was stripped naked, a board placed upon my chest, and then--while my neighbors watched--heavy stones and rocks were piled on the board. The pressing lasted for two days until I finally died. Very painful," Apocalypse said, with a humorless smile.

At that moment, Selene chose to make her entrance walking regally into their midst. She stopped abruptly and practically hissed at the intruder.

Shaw readily observed that Selene's reaction was one of recognition, but also ... fear?

"Hello Selene," Apocalypse said and greeted her with a cold smile.

Selene didn't answer but seemed to retreat into the shadows, almost putting Shaw between this man and herself.

Shaw was not accustomed to being ignored and Selene and this man seemed to have each others undivided attention. Irritated, he turned to Selene. "Do you know this man?"

"This isn't a man Sebastian. I'm not sure he's even a mutant," she spit out the words in contempt. "I don't know what it is." She paused for a moment, regarding the cruel smile that had crept across the man's face in answer to her words. "He calls himself Apocalypse."

Shaw straightened, regarding the man in front of him with some new respect and also with caution. "Of course. Yes I've heard of you. The immortal mutant, like Selene," Shaw said looking at both of them for an answer. Selene's eyes narrowed with suppressed fury at Shaw's comparison.

Shaw signaled Tessa to scan Apocalypse and see why he was here -- see what he wanted.

She had just started the scan when pain welled up into her like a surging tidal wave, sweeping her away. She immediately broke the telepathic scan or she could no longer function properly, Tessa didn't know which. She had actually stopped thinking and there was no longer an iota of coherent thought in her mind -- only the pain. She was unaware that she was tearing at her body in an attempt to rid herself of the overwhelming agony that infused every crevice, every nerve ending of her body.

Shaw watched as Tessa's body crumpled immediately after he had given the order for her to scan Apocalypse. A small snarl of agony escaped her lips and then she lost the ability to make any sound as her body and limbs twisted and contorted, writhing on the cave floor. Shaw saw the contents of her stomach spill out of her mouth and smelled that Tessa had lost all control of her bowels. She appeared to be gulping for air when her face blanched and she curled into a fetal position and appeared to be unconscious.

"Please let me explain," Apocalypse offered in answer to Shaw's grim expression as he looked at Tessa. "I'd encountered a similar problem with a mutant much like your lovely associate. Someone intimately known to your Hellfire Club as well -- the Phoenix, Jean Grey. She attacked many years ago much like your Tessa just did. Oh, I was able to repel her advances," he said with a cold smile. "But I was very impressed with this new martial ability and could see its uses -- and the necessity to develop ways to combat it. One such way was recalling specific incidences of pain."

"You couldn't do that to Tessa with a memory," Shaw said but with a clear lack of conviction.

"Your quite right Shaw. A poor description. Not a memory. Anyone who has had the misfortune of having a limb amputated can tell you how the missing limb continues to be felt -- in the brain. I actually witnessed this very thing. A former ... colleague of mine, a Dr. Essex -- I believe you know him Shaw."

Shaw just shook his head, confused.

"Really? I was led to believe he commonly was in and out," Apocalypse paused seeming mildly amused -- "or visited your Inner Circle quite often. No matter. You see Dr. Essex performed a number of amputations, all unnecessary of course, just to test this theory. He said that the brain has within it maps of the body that record every sensation onto the relevant body part. You don't feel anything with your hands or fingers, you feel with your mind. The entire reality," he gestured around him, "what we see and what we feel, what we smell and what we hear is mapped in the brain and then those recorded sensations reach out to our consciousness from within," he paused tapping the top of his head. "The cerebral cortex -- yes I am sure that was the name of the part of the brain Essex was referring to," Apocalypse said, nodding his head strangely, confirming his thoughts. "There is a reality out here, but everything we experience," he smiled, "arises inside our heads -- amazing really."

"With Essex's help I learned to actually recreate physically those things in my mind, that map, the very nerve messages, truly feeling the pain at that time." He continued, grimly. "You can say pain and I are old friends. The very nature of my mutation is exquisitely painful." He laughed, a booming, terrifying sound. "I function quite normally, in agony. Others, who might find themselves in the vicinity of my mind, well..." he gestured towards Tessa. "Others find it a bit overwhelming," he chuckled frostily.

Shaw was fascinated by the way Apocalypse had handled the attempt to telepathically scan him. If Apocalypse were to be believed -- excruciating pain as a defense. If Tessa's reaction or condition was any indication, a formidable defense at that. And what did it say about the person who adopted that defense of his accord and could function? What kind of willpower would that take?

Something suddenly dawned on Shaw and he changed his tactics immediately. "My sources had informed me about a potential conflict involving many mutants led by Mr. Sinister. His conflict is with you. I hadn't thought much about it until now but that is why you're here, isn't it?"

"I see no reason for our interests to conflicts," Shaw said amicably. As a matter of fact, it is rather obvious that an alliance would benefit us both. I recognize you as a man with unusual resources. I assure you that I can easily prove my worth as well."

Apocalypse focused fully on Shaw for the first time, almost as if he were beneath his notice until Apocalypse deemed it appropriate to address him.

"You misunderstand me Shaw. Even should you choose to side with Sinister, it would not tip the outcome in any fashion. No," Apocalypse drew the word out, and Shaw could feel the overtones of power build in the air around him. "I am going to use you as an example. Your death will send a message," he said pinning Shaw with a frightening stare.

A machine mind that a moment ago was completely dormant, sprang to life, illuminating lifeless eyes bent on destruction. Preprogrammed objectives were being compared to data that was currently being fed to it by a vast array of external sensors. The bio-signatures of the mutants resident in the Hellfire Club mansion were all but invisible to the great machine. Apocalypse's bio-signature was not.

Unlike many of the earlier model of Sentinels, this robot did not announce its intention to the world. Belying its enormous size, the Sentinel quickly closed its hand, while raising a single arm, and brought its fist crashing down towards one of the mutants.

With his mind's eye, Apocalypse reached into his vast pool of stored resources, and began the conversion of energy to mass. A portion of this energy was diverted to his arm and hand, which was used to replicate the basic structure that was already there. His arm lengthened and thickened and his hand grew to a size that matched or exceeded the Sentinels hand. He strengthened the bonds between the molecules in his arm and hand, as well as the bonds between the atoms, bringing them closer together -- so close in fact that the density of his body exceeded any natural substance. If one had measured Apocalypse's mass a few nanoseconds ago and compared it to the mass he now possessed, they would have discovered that it had increased a thousand fold.

Shaw had no intention of negotiating with Apocalypse. He had activated the Sentinel and knew it was programmed to ignore Selene but had special instructions to strike Shaw himself. He had hoped that this misdirection would have allowed the Sentinel endow him with super strength and invulnerability because of his mutant ability to absorb kinetic energy. Being struck by a five ton arm at a considerable velocity would have imparted a sizable amount of energy to Shaw. He had no idea that Apocalypse would anticipate this action and take steps to prevent this. Obviously Apocalypse had come prepared with full knowledge of Shaw's mutant ability.

Things happened so quickly is was almost impossible for the eye to follow. The Sentinel brought its fist down on Shaw's head. In a blur of motion or a blur due to Apocalypse's transformation, Apocalypse's oversized hand intercepted the Sentinels blow and Shaw remained untouched. Shaw was shocked as the detonation of sound occurred directly over his head due to the impact. He watched as the Sentinel's fist came to an abrupt stop as this feat flouted the laws of physics. At end of a long lever arm, Apocalypse should have been launched into the air by the impact. Despite the Sentinels vastly greater size, Shaw watched enthralled as Apocalypse's feet remained firmly rooted to the ground and the Sentinels arm buckled at its shoulder.

Apocalypse's other arm again, blurred momentarily and morphed into a sharp blade. It extended, growing in length and width making a direct course for the Sentinels head. The spear-like appendage penetrated the Sentinels chin and met no resistance as it passed through and out the back its head. A short sharp electrical discharge and accompanying smell permeated the air. Red-lit eyes momentarily dimmed and then went completely out as the Sentinel fell backwards and crashed to the ground , a deafening sound of metal against rock echoed throughout the vast cavern.

"Your trivial ploy would have made little difference Shaw. In a clash between the two of us," Apocalypse limbs returned to normal size, but he assumed the form that all his enemies were familiar with, "there can only be one outcome."

Shaw braced himself for an attack. "Even I find your boasting irritating," Shaw said with a challenging tone.

Apocalypse did not advance on Shaw, instead, he just pointed his index finger at Shaw and wiggled it back and forth.

Perplexed, Shaw sneered at Apocalypse. "Is that supposed..." Shaw suddenly felt his legs go numb and he collapsed to the ground. He had no feeling in his legs and despite repeated attempts, he could not stand.

"I've severed certain nerves at the base of your spine that control everything below your waist," Apocalypse supplied.

"You what? Shaw exclaimed with a saucer-eyed stare.

"Your mutant power is very formidable Shaw. Although you wouldn't have been able to absorb the punishment I could have easily administered, I rather enjoyed this subtle approach. I simply reduced the breadth of my finger to a few molecules in width. Just enough to cut the nerves and impart next to zero kinetic energy due to negligible mass."

Apocalypse waved his finger again. Shaw grunted, his look of apprehension changed to outright horror.

"I can't see, I can't see! What have you done to me, you crazy bastard?" Shaw cried out hysterically. "Selene, help me. Selene? Answer me, you bitch!" fear and rage mixed in his words. He reached for her, his hands quivering.

Apocalypse did not even look at Selene. It was almost an open invitation for her to do something to help Shaw. Selene remained where she was.

"I've severed both your optic nerves. Believe me when I say I take little pleasure in this," Apocalypse said with brutal detachment. "What I have done to you is for others to see -- and understand."

"Please," Shaw begged. "I'll give you anything," his voice degenerated into a guttural rasp.

Shaw's pleading disgusted Apocalypse. "You deserve much worse," Apocalypse said with undisguised distaste. With that, Apocalypse severed the major arteries leading to his brain. Sebastian Hiram Shaw, Black King of the Hellfire Club, fell forward. The king was dead.

Selene watched at how easily Shaw had been dispatched. Long ago, she had heard of Apocalypse, and had sought him out to subdue him to her will. He had shrugged of her attempts indifferently, much as an adult would restrain a small child. It had been the first time she had suffered a defeat and Apocalypse had achieved it effortlessly. At the time, it had galled her to no end. After many years, she had learned to accept this ignominious defeat and resolved to avoid this creature at all times. Selene believed that the old adage that there was always someone stronger or more powerful than you -- she believed that the someone that was being referred to was Apocalypse.

She momentarily froze as cold eyes regarded her once more. She recovered quickly and with intricate arm and hand movements, gathered vast arcane energy about her. "It shall not be as easy to best me this time monster. I have learned much and have grown in power," Selene said, and stuck out her chin defiantly.

Apocalypse regarded her for a moment before speaking. "Indeed."

With that one word, it was clear that he believed her -- his tone not mocking, but one of respect.

"You have undeniably supplemented your already considerable power," Apocalypse said with candid appreciation. "But I have no quarrel with you, Selene. My purpose was to kill Shaw only."

Selene neither relaxed her guard or allowed her defensive energies to wane. But she was curious.

"Why Shaw?" she asked.

"There are those who foolishly wish me dead. An army of mutants is being assembled to finally put an end to me," Apocalypse chuckled, the sound even disturbed Selene.

"Shaw would have been enlisted. This," Apocalypse said pointing to Shaw's inert body, "is just a personal message to his would be employer. I suggest you take note of the content of this message, should you yourself be contacted," Apocalypse's tone, had suddenly turned ominous. "See to it that none of your External brethren participate in the upcoming conflict." Apocalypse took a threatening step towards her. "I will not be as swift or merciful as I was with Shaw," he said with one last withering glare, and disappeared.

Selene had no intention of siding with that madman Sinister against Apocalypse. She wasn't a fool. She glanced down at Shaw and didn't feel an ounce of remorse. Her only thought was that she was glad that Apocalypse had come for Shaw, and not her.

Sinister watched as Shaw's bio-signature winked out indicating that he was dead, although Sinister's presence wasn't necessary. Like many of his devices, it was automated and the data on Shaw's demise would have been waiting for him to evaluate at his convenience.

The information was not unexpected. Apocalypse was obviously aware of Sinister's overt machinations and Shaw's death was no more than Apocalypse's show of recognition. The target had been a carefully selected one as well. Sinister's connection to Shaw's family made him more of a personal target. But for Apocalypse to take any action at all was almost a show of appreciation. In many ways Apocalypse was quite predictable.

There were still many more pieces to be moved into place before he felt he could successfully execute his plan. He believed for the moment Apocalypse would allow him the time to assemble the necessary combatants. Apocalypse would no doubt welcome the challenge, welcome the test of his own power.

Sinister began his review of the next candidate -- the next sacrificial lamb to insure the realization his plan.


Continued in Chapter Nine.

[1]X-Men: the Hellfire Club#4


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