By Rowena Zahnrei
The sun was shining, the grass was lush and green, and the sound of happy shouts and carefree laughter wafted through the fragrant springtime air. The destruction of the earth had been averted, the lives of every man, woman, and child had been saved. For the first time in too long a time it seemed God was in His heaven and all was right with the world.
Unnoticed by the happy people practicing their powers in the grassy clearing, a cloaked, shadowy figure grabbed hold of a rough tree branch and leaned forward, glaring down at the scene with cold, yellow eyes. Dirty bandages wrapped his long, red fingers, holding them together in twos, though there was no evidence of a wound.
The observer's glowing eyes sought out and fixed themselves on one figure in particular; a tall, slender man with short, snow-white hair and an imposing air of charismatic power.
"There..." the shadow whispered, his low voice barely audible above the rustle of the tender, new leaves that shielded his malevolent form from view. "There. Magneto is an ally now. A hero. A friend."
He frowned, turning his gaze from the imposing old man to the mutants playing all around him.
"You've succeeded in redeeming him, X-Men, as you have almost all your enemies. Magneto...the Brotherhood...Unus...Juggernaut...Sauron. You saved them all."
The shadowy figure glared at his bandaged red hand, its long, claw-like nails digging into the tree's rough bark.
"But what of a friend's redemption?"
His long, angular face twisted in an expression of bitter pain, and he gripped the branch harder with his spade-tipped tail.
"Why haven't you redeemed me? What about Kurt Wagner?"
A powerful shudder ran down his spine, causing his tail to untwine itself from the thick tree branch. He knew the answer to that question. He'd known it even before he'd voiced it.
It was because he 'had' been a friend that the X-Men avoided him now. What he had done to them had been so terrible...so unforgivable...
"You betrayed them," he whispered, his harsh, accusing voice burning in his sharply pointed ears. "'I' betrayed them. I tortured them, tormented them, killed them...for no reason..."
He snorted, his golden eyes flashing with a fiery rage.
"No reason," he snarled, baring his fangs. "I had reasons. I did it out of hatred. I did it for spite. The others - Magneto and the Brotherhood, even Juggernaut to some degree - they were acting on their own beliefs, twisted and misguided though they may have been. Magneto truly believed his view was right. He believed in his ideals as strongly as that fool Xavier and his pretentious X-Men believed in theirs. When he fought, it was in defense of those ideals. When Juggernaut attacked, it was out of a personal hatred grown out of a painful past history with his brother Charles. But, when I—"
He broke off, leaning back on his branch and clutching his horned head with his one, red hand.
"Why am I here? What am I doing here?" he growled, running his claws fiercely through his wavy, crimson hair. "I neither need nor want their forgiveness. I don't need them at all!"
Bringing his hand to his mouth, he savagely tore the bandages from his fingers with his sharp fangs, flexing them together, then one at a time.
"I am 'not' the pathetic circus freak they knew, the grotesquely deformed mutant who would eagerly forgive any trespass just to be 'liked' by a group of arrogant 'fools' who were 'never' worth the effort!"
He scowled, his russet features hardened by hatred.
"Kurt Wagner is dead," he stated, his breath quickening slightly as the blunt words passed his narrow lips. "I am Belasco. And a demon has no need for redemption."
Where a certain blue, fuzzy, elf-like mutant may once have teleported from the branch with a soft BAMF of imploding air and a theatrical flash of smoke, Belasco climbed down to the soft, new grass using his tail and his one, strong arm. He stalked away, his long cloak swirling by his ankles, unaware that his five unbandaged fingers had again divided themselves into a familiar, tridactyl form...
To Be Continued...