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All Empires Laid Low

Chapter Text


Morning in the wastelands that have no name.


The barren landscape stretches from horizon to horizon, filled with its emptiness. Erik himself moves almost noiselessly, so that the ringing silence (almost a low type of music in and of itself) is broken only by the far cry of the boar-lynx, and the occasional gust of wind. With a mingled air of propriety and reluctance, the G-d Emperor finally dons his helmet. It weighs heavily on him, these days, and it will always be a necessity; all the same, it is disconcerting to realize that he no longer feels fit to be seen without it. A symbol, yes, and a defense against the less scrupulous of the telepathic Houses, but it would also be like going about naked in public. As Charles would have put it (after laughing at Erik, no doubt), it was simply not a done thing.

 

In spite of its two suns, daylight on Genosha-- particularly in the north-- is actually rather dim. The seemingly perpetual veil of thin gray clouds provide a merciful, if gloomy, shield against those self-same blazing orbs. The eons-old primary star (which Erik privately thinks of as Shemesh, though he has no memory of why) is not that far past the prime of any main-sequence body, but it is far from ideal. The other-- which Erik calls die kleine, and which the Beast has labeled a 'helium white dwarf'-- is apparently the composed of leftover matter in the system, and moves so rapidly around the shared center of gravity that it appears to be zipping rambunctiously about the alpha. Without the considerable amounts of dust, water vapor and other particulates in the upper atmosphere, this rock would not have been a candidate for settlement at all. Desperation, as Erik well knows, can make its home amidst any dusty corner or poisoned well. The handful of survivors from Asteroid M had been running out: of fuel, of sustenance, and even of parts to repair the very systems that provided oxygen. The prohibition against mechanized intelligence made the journey even more arduous but, by that time, the aversion to AI had reached an almost religious zeal amongst their kind.

 

(Lehnsherr himself can still hear the revolting discordance of screams and clashing, somehow-elastic armor that composed Trask's first unexpected demonstration. A marvel of modern science, indeed! The Sentinels had been unveiled at some arrogantly named 21st Century exhibition-- the sort of petty international muscle-flexing that annoyed Magneto to no end. His own target had not been Trask, but rather one of the Cure manufacturers desperately trying to ply their wares as some sort of regular supplement, rather than a final solution. Even he had not anticipated another assault while world governments were still reeling from the resurgence of the The Mutant Problem. Trask had turned his inventions on the very audience itself, slaughtering mutants wholesale amidst the churning crowd. The smell of charred flesh and burning hair summoned a raging despair within Erik, who felt memories press in on him with such immediacy that it was as if he were living two horrors at once.

He fought, of course. He exercised his reemerging and somewhat atrophied powers to escape with his life and, more importantly, those of many others. A good number of them were children; many more had previously tried to normalize themselves, and now swung violently towards his cause.

But Erik was old-- in body, then, if not to this great degree of exhaustion in spirit-- and even the most refined of strong drinks had not been able to wash the taste of oven-ash and hateful chocolate from his mouth.)

 

The flight of mutants from Sol system had come more than five hundred years later, but it had been no less pressing. That Erik remains unmoved by this new Genosha is hardly remarkable. He has never felt a loyalty towards land, or the pull to call a place his own. He is tempted to say his own parents came from a kingdom called Diaspora, but knows his memory is far from reliable in most cases.

(He knows, for example, that Charles' residence was merely a very large house, and not a castle-- but that is how it seems to him now, in his worn recollections. As close, if he is honest, as he has ever gotten to that mythical concept of 'home'.)

This new mutant generation has a deep love of what is, to Erik, an utterly alien horizon. That is all very well, from a nation-building standpoint. The still lake and rocky banks of New Muir are a subject for their race's budding literary tradition, though it is sometimes hard to understand what exactly there is to rhapsodize about.

 

Genosha will never be a 'romantic' planet. Its night sky is alive with stars and the pearlescent band of the Milky Way, but it has no moon. Consequently, the few bodies of liquid water lay quite still, and many of the dizzying geological structures were formed when the world was quite young. The rocky, mineral-rich soil is an excellent analogy for the new inhabitants: pragmatic yet somehow ostentatious, determined yet possessed of an oddly retiring aggression. The few native plants play disquieting elaborations on those standards remembered from Earth. There are trees with diaphanous white foliage, and thin crimson roots suggestive of veins. Berries grow in tenacious little bundles between boulders, fist-sized fruit gem-like in its ripe transparency. Deep, thick banks of moss grow in the lowlands near New Muir, where they glitter like fool's gold in the daylight. In this same way, the new mutant society has arranged itself in very original ways to accommodate its astonishing array of gifts, but Erik has seen an old stratification taking place almost from the moment of settlement. Mutants might be the 'better men', but they are far from flawless. Rage, greed, and lust for power stir within their hearts still, and it seems no amount of genetic evolution will ever breed it out.

With an almost sour, self-effacing smile, Erik wonders if he would be able to concede this point to Charles, had his neshama rightly lived to see the world he'd struggled towards. The G-d Emperor would like to think so, but he is more self-aware now than ever. Still stubborn and arrogant, as the more courageous of his minders is quick to point out.

 

Since he doesn't have to answer to the nigh-on indomitable Emma-Leigh or the timidly compassionate Gene at the moment (or anyone else, for that matter), Magento takes a circuitous route towards his make-shift tanning cave. There are few landmarks in this nameless waste, but the metalokinetic has no need of them. He follows the veins of ore in the ground itself, and the mineral composition of particular outcroppings. Cold winds blow down out of the ultimate north, a glaciered polar region that gradually dims off in Erik's senses into a void like that of old, flat-Earth maps.
"Here there be dragons," he mutters to himself ruefully.

Hank has been toying with the idea of of an 'arctic' expedition, developing a number of theories from their scant shuttle-imaging, and noting that the tilt of Genosha's axis-- slightly less than that of Earth-- may yield interesting variations. Though he'd understood the severe time constraints, the Beast had been unable to refrain from pointing out the potential colony's short-comings. A thirty-eight hour day, lack of perceptible seasons, and thin range of vegetation had only been the beginning. In a thousand years or so (of course, McCoy's figure had been much more accurate) mutant kind would be forced to migrate again; this time to escape the maturing Red Giant of Genosha's primary sun. Generations of mutants will be born and buried in the interim. Erik himself may die, though he's not holding out much hope for that. The Beast has tested all four "Guardians", including himself, on genetic and molecular levels-- no amount of data yet amassed has yielded an answer. There isn't much to correlate anyway-- they all have the same 'symptoms' of immortality, but very different diseases. Of them all, only Hank has aged-- minutely, if perceptibly-- and they have known a long while that Mystique is immune to time only the way the stars are. That is, by sheer scope. Because his own case has the fewest answers, this has occasionally led to the utterly discomforting notion that Erik may someday exist amongst his mortal mutant citizens with only Wolverine for company.

 

('And yes,' whispers the tattered-and-stitched boy-child Lehnsherr still carries within. 'Fixate on that triviality. Better that than contemplate the notion that this torture may never end. The Bad Man, the doctor whose name we banished-- at least with him there was hope he might go to far and make the damage fatal. G-d, if there is such a creature, is far more cruel in his experiment. And He understands the concept of mercy about as well as He understands the importance of protecting mothers.')

 

The G-d Emperor shudders, and knows his arrival at the little grotto to be well-timed. He doesn't want to think about any of this. He forces it from his mind (or, perhaps, deeper _into_ his mind) as he crosses the stream. Up current a small ways, a waterfall is formed by some hidden glacier spring. The cave is cool, heavy in ores that sing, and the pelts are a firm weight in his arms.

He gets to work. After all, lifetimes of imprisonment have taught him that there's nothing like work and aching muscle to banish conscious thought.



[ * * * * * * ]


When they come upon him-- much to Erik's later chagrin-- he is atypically unprepared. The morning's chores had been tedious, but ultimately successful. The hides are now drying properly in the back of the cave. He's checked the meat (stored in the front, wrapped in terraplast and kept cold under the steady waterfall) and taken the older cuts with him to dry for jerky. He's not far downstream when it does happen, just skirting the bank near where a great slab of glacier juts out over the bare tundra. Deep in that comforting, meditative thought that comes from making very prosaic plans, Lehnsherr has only a few seconds during the boar-lynx's throbbing battle-cry in which to take any warning. Turning rapidly, he scans his immediate surroundings and the horizon, but there is nothing to be gleaned sight or metal-sense. In the next instant, a powerful boar-lynx is leaping down upon him from the glacier overhang. The frozen snow-- having disguised the boar's approach-- is not equal to supporting the added pressure of the pounce, and the precipice collapses atop both Erik and his new foe. Three more bucks leap (or half-fall) from the glacier's height, their continuous growls sounding as deep and potent as giant, thunder-filled drums.

The avalanche blankets both mutant Emperor and the boar-pack's leader, a silent white cacophony of ice and snow. Erik fights his way out from under the not inconsiderable weight, very glad the collapsing section was not larger. He very carefully heats the helmet, just enough to help ease his escape. In another minute, he bursts free from the snowy rubble with a great gasp for air not unlike that of a man lost at sea. His grateful inhale is suddenly reversed into an involuntary grunt as wave of sharp, excruciating pain rakes upwards against the back of his neck. The helmet comes free under the force of the boar's swipe, tumbling down the snow bank even as Lehnsherr strikes out half-blindly at his attacker. He catches the creature near its jaw, just enough to make it rear back and give him room to maneuver. Its tusks are dripping with Magneto's blood.

 

Erik only manages to roll half way. The alpha has somehow freed itself from the snow as well, heaving its great jaguar-like forepaws squarely down on the mutant's chest. This male is easily twice as large as the rest of its pack, with one tusk chipped far shorter than the other in some battle long ago. The claw on the back of its single, vestigial toe cuts mercilessly through the crisp, tunic jacket that has always been one of Magneto's hallmarks. Though this one is made of cold-resistant durafiber, the talon still penetrates with the ease of a hot knife. It stings even past the initial penetration into flesh, digging under his ribs like a fishing hook. Erik goes slack, knowing full well that any tension will cause further damage to muscle and tendon.

There is nothing to stop him from flexing his powers, though. The section of glacier may have (quite cleverly) hidden his attackers approach, but there is still plenty of ferric rock at his disposal. He fells one of the younger bucks immediately, pulling free a blade-like shard of basalt and lancing it through the boar's head without a single physical movement. The other two rear back in terror, looking for other adversaries, but the alpha remains unfazed. In its small, incongruously pink eyes, Erik can see an instinctive rage and animal cunning, driven by the faintest beginnings of sapient thought. The boar-lynx had begun hunting him in return-- or, at least, this one had. It makes a fetid barking noise in the mutant's face, as if calling upon the others to attend. They do, but not before Erik yanks viciously on a vein of ore only a few inches beneath the surface of a boulder. Its small, and the rest of the magnetically inert rock presents a dead weight, but he maintains his tenuous grip long enough to send it crashing down directly atop another of his foes.

In retribution, the leader yanks up one paw, still holding Lehnsherr down with its sinewy weight. The single talon doesn't take much with it when it pulls free, though it slices flesh impressively. Clearly, it is meant for opening the carcass-- it's the tusks the creatures use for the actual rending of meat. He doesn't cry out, though he cannot help but gasp at the pain. As he does so, the boar brings its curled paw down again for what amounts to a sucker-punch-- of almost concussive force.

 

Stubbornly, the Emperor maintains consciousness, though he is forced to release his magnetic hold on two other projectiles. His vision takes on a dark, mouldering yellow cast-- the color of sickness, if ever such a thing could be seen. Since the heralding of his second (and quite protracted) youth, Lehnsherr has had more than one brush with mortality. He'd spent decades in the trenches, for he'd had the dubious honor of being one of the few Omega-level mutants the Stryker/Trask conglomerate had managed to harness. Fire-fights, plasma bombs, radiation (to say nothing of a Sentinel's arsenal)-- he'd had all of that thrown at him, and more. On Callisto, he'd been in the blast radius of a hadron bomb, escaping with severe injuries only because the child-soldier at his side swept him away with the wind at her command. He'd tried so hard not to… become involved. Though they fought together for months, he'd never known her real name. It was only when he saw her smoking husk that he realized he'd been privately thinking of her as 'Anya'.

 

The Ceres-Pallas slaughter, the bombing of New Vegas. Diseases both natural and engineered, famine, exposure, and acid raids to name just a few. Yet Magneto had survived. At least he thought

(thought strongly, made belief fact, stubbornly refused to pray)

as much. Those bastard scientists had never been very forthcoming, but there had been plenty of molecular healing technology available at the time. Available only to the elite, star-chamber humans of course… and "investment assets".

(Ah,kleiner Erik Lehnsherr… its all fear and anger, don't you see? you are a weapon.)

Erik was part of the arsenal, just the same as always. They would heal him again and again, not out of compassion (for no longer was there even the pretense of medical aid on the battlefield), but because he was useful.

 

Presently, the alpha boar breathes a hot, vicious growl in the Emperor's face, as if sensing this barest moment of inattention. Its pink eyes glitter-- almost aqueous, like some juicy Old Earth fruit. It wants to kill Magneto, but it will do so slowly. Whatever its level of intelligence, it is definitely sentient enough to want revenge. This would be a phenomenally stupid way to die, Erik chastises himself. Already, he is fumbling for new weapons with every ounce of his metal-sense. Smaller objects are easier to 'grip' past the throbbing yellow in his head: he pelts both his remaining enemies with iron pebbles, moving them with far more force and speed than conventional bullets. The leader actually takes the brunt of the stony hail, but he is old and tenacious. Lehnsherr has more luck with the younger one, embedding a bit of shrapnel close to its heart. It feels like a monumental effort, but a small fission of electromagnetic charge sends the beast crashing to the ground, breath and pulse no more.

No roar from the alpha this time. Instead, it dips its remaining tusk just enough to slice a thin cut into Magneto's cheek.
'Just me and thee,' Erik thinks at it, unwilling to waste the effort of speaking aloud. There's no question in his mind that he will prevail, but there is just the slightest flicker of something else. A deft little ripple, moving from the depths to the forefront of his mind-- less than a heartbeat, and more than a void between moments.

 

He is so tired. Tired beyond aching bones and the endless cacophony of battles remembered in nightmare. Exhausted beyond the cold, the hunger, and the imprint of barbed wire that never quite. fucking. leaves.

(There is no Olam Ha-Ba. There would only be _nothing_; all of it, everything, my very self would _stop_. I dishonor no one's untimely death, betray no vow, and there is no G-d to hold me accountable.
Charles…)

Then, like the barest prickle of flesh, the temptation is gone. Self-annihilation, even via negligence, is simply not a part of Magneto's being. Within him there is a singularity-- burning iron winter and the divine-furnace will to contradict. To live because others have judged him deserving to die; to fight because others have thought him powerless; to take anger over tenderness because, while love is fragile and fleeting, revenge is forever. Like the dead themselves. This is the merciless whip-hand (his own!) pursuing him through lifetimes of horror, and which will drive him to face the grotesqueries of the future, every battle to come.

Magneto is not particularly aware of these bare facts of his existence on a conscious level. If he were to be presented with them as blandly as he so often presents the truth, he would undoubtably go mad. Only one man has ever truly seen and understood the core of Erik Lehnsherr; a teacher with the gentleness of true strength, who said he did not want the same things then proceeded to stay and care anyway. He is gone, and Erik is no more capable of realizing what Xavier saw in him than any being is capable of vomiting up their own soul.

 

Scarcely a moment has passed in real-time. In fact, the Emperor is still exhaling the same breath during which the brief temptation came to him. Up to this point, he's kept his physical body deceptively still and lax. Now, he surges upward against the boar's oppressive weight. The creature is too powerful to be bucked off, but the movement definitely catches it off guard. It did not escape the earlier hail unscathed, either; it's taken quite a bit of shrapnel, though nothing vital was hit. At least, not at the time. Calculating, Magento takes hold of every ferric object lodged in the his foe's flesh, sending them scattering outwards in every direction. As the alpha recoils in pain, Erik rears up and thrusts the whole of his powerfully muscled form to push the creature off. Locked in combat, they tumble down the mound of avalanche debris and onto the barren tundra rock. The mutant's head takes another impact from a shard of ice and the remaining claw in his gut jars with hot pain, but he manages to land on top. Taking the great boar's throat in his two bare hands, Lehnsherr squeezes with every bit of his will and no shortage of well-mulled, thwarted rage. His thumbs press inward, crushing the esophagus even as the alpha stares at him with hateful, not-quite stupidity.

Finally, it thrashes once and breathes no more, those pink eyes sightless and dull. Releasing his strangle-hold, the G-d Emperor props himself up on one hand, using the other to gingerly extract the claw lodged in his belly. He is already taking mental stock of the few emergency provisions back at his camp. The wound is, somewhat miraculously, still relatively small, but it is bleeding more than he would like. Dragging himself off the body of his prey, Magneto rolls on his back, looking up at the murky quartz sky as the various chemicals and hormones excited by battle slowly begin to dissipate. He draws in deep, painful lungfuls of air, the clock-work thunder of his heartbeat growing more sedate with each exhale.

 

It is then that the nameless canyon in the nameless waste echoes with a round of polite, restrained applause.

 

 

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