Broken: Part 1
by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story belong to Marvel Comics, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. It is set somewhat loosely in current X-continuity--I'm not going to peg it down specifically. Just think 'near future'.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was originally supposed to be an answer to Staff's First Line Challenge ("So this isHell. The walls need paint.") It turned into something else pretty quickly, but it still shares those first lines, so I suppose it technically falls under the challenge.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: This story is as much Redhawk's as mine. I may have written it, but it wouldn't have even gotten off the ground without him. He's basically my co-plotter on this, and is getting an unholy amount of delight over converting me to the 'Dark Side of the Force' <chuckle>
WARNING: This story is rated R for violence.
He only wished he could forget.
Realizing that he was hanging limply in his restraints, he forced himself to straighten as much as he could, so that he arms didn't feel quite so much like they were being pulled out of their sockets. Moving at all hurt, bruises and broken bones and deeper injuries protesting the shift in position. But he was going to face this on his feet. It was the only thing left to do. Willing his vision to clear, he blinked around at the room.
The small windowless room.
Why was he still alive?
Because HE wants to gloat, you flonqing idiot.
He sagged in his restraints again, biting back a moan of despair. Slowly, inexorably, the protective haze was dissolving, and he could sense the full, terrible weight of what had happened looming above his head, waiting to crash down on him.
Not to worry, my dear chap. The voice in his head had turned bright and cheerful, picking up an incongruous English accent. You gave it the old college try. Nothing to be ashamed about.
The 'old college try'? Good metaphor. A wild, desolate travesty of a laugh slipped free before he could stop it. It had been quite the game, yeah. And the 'opposing team' had kicked his sorry carcass back and forth across the hot sands of Akkaba with the greatest of ease.
Blaquesmith had sent him in on reconaissance. Nothing more, nothing less. He should have gotten the hell out of here as soon as he'd realized he wasn't alone. Instead, he'd hesitated, waited just those few minutes too long, and all hell had broken loose.
What a fool he'd been. A stubborn, overconfident, arrogant fool. When the first two Dark Riders had popped in with a shimmer of golden light, he'd thought he could handle it. Then their six buddies had shown up, and by that point it had been too late. He'd killed some of them, he remembered that much, but more had kept teleporting in. After that, it was something of a blur. All he could remember was fighting, and falling--
He laid his head back against the cool stone of the wall behind him, struggling for control, for the stoicism that had served him so well in the past, after countless other setbacks and defeats. But this was different. This wasn't just another battle he'd lost. It was the war. He'd been ambushed before, but falling prey to this one had landed him here, a prisoner in the hands of his greatest enemy. Some Chosen One he'd turned out to be.
For someone who never gives up, Dayspring, you're waving the white flag awfully easily. Now the voice was angry, challenging. Show a little spirit! Stop feeling sorry for yourself and DO something about it!
Cable lifted his head, his eyes narrowing as he tried to think, to reason this through. Focus, he told himself fiercely. He wasn't wearing an inhibitor collar. The T-O virus was still under control. Was it possible that Apocalypse hadn't taken any measures to restrain his psi-abilities? Oath, that make no sense at all-- But if it was true--he closed his eyes, turning his concentration inward.
There. Just out of the corner of his 'eye', a shimmer of gold in the dark. Flickering feebly, but there. Waiting. Like a man dying of thirst in the desert, he reached out for it, started to draw on it--
And the door of his cell was thrown open. His eyes flew open, in time to see several angry Dark Riders swarm into his cell. One, the tall, intense soldier-type who had apparently been leading the Dark Riders earlier today--Gauntlet's replacement, maybe--stepped forward and swung his rifle, butt-end first, at Cable's head. The resulting impact was enough to send shooting streaks across his vision, and the throbbing headache surged into a crescendo of pain.
"Get that little worm of a psi-vamp in here!" Cable, barely concious, heard him snarl. He felt two of them check his restraints, one muttering something about 'TK spikes' and 'cursed psis'. He grunted as his head was yanked upwards by the hair, the moment sending a fresh bolt of pain from one side of his skull to the other. His vision blurred, but he could still make out the face of the Dark Rider leader, glowering at him. "You're lucky the Master wants you alive," he spat. "More trouble than you're worth, Dayspring--"
Cable heard, rather than saw someone else scuttle into the cell, heard the curses the Dark Riders directed at the new arrival. The Dark Rider leader let go of him and turned around. Cable mustered all the strength he could, raising his head and trying to focus.
What he saw was the Dark Rider leader backhanding a slight, cloaked figure that went to its knees on the floor, emitting a strange, hissing noise. "You were supposed to make sure he couldn't use his powers actively, you worthless fool," the Dark Rider growled. "If our instruments hadn't registered the TK spike--"
The cloaked figure got to its feet, hunched over in a peculiar position, and nodded frantically at the Dark Rider, still hissing. With a sound of disgust, the Dark Rider stepped aside, and the cloaked figure hurried over to Cable.
Cable stared down at it, seeing nothing but shadows inside the hood. Then, hands were reaching for him--scaled, lesion-covered hands like something out of nightmare--and Cable feebly tried to pull away. Futile effort, of course. The being took his head between those hand in a vice-like grip, and within the shadows of the hood, two spots of blue light began to glow where its eyes should be.
Cable's whole body convulsed as he felt himself being drained, his psionic energies siphoned with cool, brutal efficiency. The psi-vampire's eyes glowed brightly.
#Yes--yes--# Even in his mind, its voice still sounded like a hiss, but spoke perfectly intelligible English. #So rare, so bright--so strong!#
Somehow, even without his telepathy, he could feel its pleasure. It made him want to retch. The pressure inside his mind grew worse, crossing the border into pain as the psi-vampire drew more and more from him. Cable moaned, thrashing in his restraints, but the psi-vampire's grip was unbreakable. The draining sensation continued, and after a few moments, Cable could feel the will to resist slowly dissolving as his mind drifted away, spiraling down into the darkness.
He barely felt the psi-vampire release him. Hanging there in the restraints, limp as a puppet whose strings had been cut, he heard the buzz of some sort of angry conversation taking place around him. But it was far away, too far away to hear--
Cable passed out.
The blow across the face snapped him out of fitful, exhausted sleep. Cable coughed, tasting blood, and gritted his teeth as his head was wrenched around by a strong hand. He found himself staring at the Dark Rider leader, who was grinning with something that looked very much like anticipation. The Dark Rider's eyes were peculiarly measuring.
"You've been out for almost twelve hours," he said with mock soliticiously. "Our pet lifeforce-sucker got a little carried away."
"Enjoys his--work a little too much?" Cable rasped. "Makes--two of you, I guess--" The next blow came as no surprise, but it was still hard enough to make him see stars. He slumped back against the wall, breathing raggedly.
"You shut up," the Dark Rider said almost pleasantly. "Don't you realize what's going on here, Dayspring? You've lost, you poor fool. The only reason you're alive is that Lord Apocalypse thinks you might be of some use to him."
Cable forced himself to straighten, to glare at the Dark Rider. "When hell freezes over," he snarled. But it didn't sound too convincing, and the Dark Rider only laughed.
"Whatever," he said casually, and half-turned, gesturing someone forward. His companion looked like a bigger, uglier version of Colossus, but in stone instead of steel. He, too, was vaguely familiar from the battle. "Meet Hans," the Dark Rider leader said with another grin. "You killed his brother yesterday--blew him through a wall with that psimitar of yours. I think Hans has some issues he'd like to work out with you." He turned to Hans. "Leave him alive, but whatever else you want, have a blast," he said casually. "Order came down to soften him up a bit, so it might as well be you."
Hans nodded stolidly, not saying a word, and the Dark Rider leader gave Cable one last mocking look. "I'd tell you to have a good afternoon, but that would be just plain mean of me." He left, closing the cell door behind him.
Cable stared at Hans for a minute, and then tried again to use his powers. Nothing. He was managing to keep the T-O virus under control--that use of his powers was mostly unconscious, after all these years--but that was it.
This was not going to be good.
"What are--you waiting for?" he growled at the Dark Rider. Hans simply stared at him. "Don't--talk much, do you?"
Hans stepped forward, and the last thing that Cable saw clearly was a fist that looked like a small boulder coming at him. The blow broke his nose and slammed his head back against the wall so hard that Cable was half-sure he heard his skull crack. With a surprising amount of professionalism for someone with a personal grudge, Hans set about working him over, quite methodically.
Cable had been in situations like this before. Being half-metal usually meant he could take more punishment, but he was already in pretty bad shape from the battle the day before, and Hans, after the first few minutes, unerringly focused his attention on the spots where he could inflict the most pain, like the kidney area, already swollen and sore, and the several broken ribs Cable was already nursing. After a few minutes more, everything started to go hazy and distant again, and Cable let it. Even the hot pain of his injuries couldn't keep his mind from slowly sinking into dazed semi-consciousness.
At some point, just before he could pass out, Hans stopped, and apparently left. An indeterminate amount of time passed. It could have been minutes, or hours--or days, for all he was able to tell.
Eventually, though, the cell door opened again, and he was taken down from the wall, his restraints switched for an even more confining set that bound his arms tightly behind his back and barely allowed him to walk. He was dragged out of the cell and through the corridors for what seemed like forever, and then dropped on a cold, smooth metal floor.
Still woozy from the beating, he stubbornly tried to push the pain away, down to some level where he could ignore it. He didn't quite manage it. Askani pain-control techniques required concentration, and that was a little beyond him at the moment. Actually, a lot beyond him. He doubled over, emptying the sour contents of his stomach onto the floor, along with an alarming amount of blood.
Slowly, laboriously, he managed to get to his knees. No farther, though. The restraints had him off-balance, and he was fighting the instinctive urge to hunch over and protect his right side. Oath, were any of his ribs on that side NOT broken? he wondered wearily, struggling not to wince. He wasn't going to give any of them the satisfaction.
There was a deep, basso chuckle from somewhere in front of him. His right eye was already beginning to swell shut, but squinting, he managed to focus. There were a pair of very large, blue-armored legs moving towards him. Slowly, almost nonchalantly, as if Apocalypse was taking his time, getting a good look.
"On your knees?" the High Lord continued, his thunderous voice edged with amusement. "The position becomes you, Dayspring. Become accustomed to it."
"Burn in hell," Dayspring said, his voice a raw scrape of pain, his left eye blazing and his features twisted in a mask of hate beneath the blood and the bruises.
Apocalypse smiled coldly as he studied his enemy. Bound, beaten, entirely at his mercy. But not broken, he judged. The realization was not surprising, but quite pleasurable, nonetheless. "So," he said, to the man whose life he had shaped and dominated from infancy. "You are enjoying my hospitality, I trust?"
"Leaves--a little to be desired," the Askani'son spat. He tried again to get up again, but fell, landing heavily on his shoulder, the impact combined with the tightness of the restraints instantly dislocating it. Still, Dayspring struggled back up to his knees, glaring at him in loathing, ignoring the pain.
Apocalypse found it all very--stimulating. "Perhaps I should have had the Dark Riders kill you yesterday, then."
"Why didn't you?" Dayspring hurled the words at him almost like an accusation. Apocalypse could see, in his eyes, the passionate wish that he had died on the sands yesterday, anything to have avoided this, kneeling like a servant before the object of his life-long hatred. Such pride, Apocalypse reflected. Far past time that he was taught his limits.
"Because I did not wish you dead." Apocalypse returned to his throne and sat down, continuing to watch his prisoner measuringly. "Do you think I would allow you to fall at the hands of mere minions, Dayspring? I have waited for the battle between us for a very long time."
Dayspring gave a harsh, hoarse bark of laughter. "But I did, didn't I?" he snarled. "Fall at the hands of your minions, I mean. Doesn't that make me unfit, Apocalypse?"
"You give yourself far too little credit, Askani'son," Apocalypse said, steepling his fingers and regarding Dayspring with amusement. "Time and time again, you have proved you are a survivor. Even crippled, from Farouk's trickery on the astral plane, you managed to stand against the Dark Riders until I called a halt to the battle. You killed many of their number."
"You need to find yourself a better class of 'minion', then."
Apocalypse threw back his head and laughed. "One would almost think defiance was encoded within your DNA, boy," he said mockingly. "You are beaten, Dayspring. Think on that. I could have your head put on a spike beside my throne, or simply keep you, alive, as a trophy. You have no power here, no escape, save for what I might choose to give you." He trailed off suggestively, waiting for the reaction.
Dayspring did not disappoint him. "What are you proposing?" he asked warily.
"A--deal, is that not the word? A second chance, to finish this as it should be finished, to test your strength against mine as you have longed to do for your entire life." Apocalypse leaned forward, holding Dayspring's eyes with his own. "I will heal you, Askani'son, and we will fight. I will even give you back your psimitar." He gestured over to where the weapon stood in the corner of his throne room. Dayspring shifted his weight awkwardly, his body leaning almost unconsciously towards the psimitar, as if he yearned to hold it in his hands again. "If you win, you go free, unmolested by any of my servants. If I win--" Apocalypse couldn't hold back the smile, and delighted to see Dayspring shudder, as if in reaction. "If I win, you are mine. To do with as I please."
"And if I say no?" Dayspring rasped.
"Then you die, here and now. Do not make the mistake of believing that this is a choice, Dayspring. This is your only option."
Dayspring stared at him for a moment longer. Apocalypse could almost see his mind working,
analysing the situation, the possibilities--and coming to the only possible conclusion. His head
dropped to his chest for a moment, his whole body tensing, like a hunting cat ready to pounce.
Then, slowly, painfully, Dayspring got to his feet, and, just barely, managed to stay there. He raised his head, and while his expression was bleak, his gaze was unwavering.
"I'll do it," he grated.
"I never doubted it for a moment," Apocalypse said with a nod, a gesture of respect from one warrior to another.
A ring in the sand. The massive, dark bulk of Apocalypse's base looming off to one side. The hot Egyptian sun blazing in the sky above. Cable, feeling peculiarly detached, took it all in. It was a striking enough setting, he supposed, for the event he had been moving towards for his entire life.
The Dark Riders standing on either side of him stopped, and Cable gave them a neutral look before he stepped across into the ceremonial ring. Apocalypse had been quite set on doing this 'properly'. I suppose I should be flattered.
On the other side of the ring, Apocalypse stood there in all his 'glory', staring directly at him. Cable did his best to ignore him and started to stretch, focusing especially on his too-recently healed side. Apocalypse's healer had done his job quickly and with the utmost efficiency, but those ribs were still sore. He had to stay loose--and focused. No way was this going to be anything even approaching 'easy'.
Fighting on his ground, on his terms--could I possibly be doing anything more stupid? But he hadn't been given much of a choice. If it came down to dying pointlessly, uselessly, or risking it all on one last shot at the 'prize', he knew which one he'd take. Prophecy couldn't help him now. The Twelve weren't here. He was one man, alone against the monster that had savaged the world for five thousand years.
It would have to be enough.
Ignoring Apocalypse, Cable finished stretching, controlling his breathing as Aliya had taught him. His psimitar's cool weight was almost comforting, a link to his past, to the reason why this was, and had always been, the battle he had been born to fight. His mind cleared of regrets, of fear, and he fell into a defensive position.
Wordlessly, Apocalypse charged across the sands, arms telescoping, fists like hammers. Cable sidestepped the charge, whirling and bringing his psimitar to the ready. He started to focus, to channel his recently-restored telekinesis through the staff, when, from out of nowhere, a huge fist slammed into his just-healed side. Ribs shattered under the impact, and he was thrown violently to the ground. His psimitar thudded onto the hot sands, just out of reach.
This is NOT good, he thought through the pain. Instinctively, he rolled, reflex alone saving him as the other fist came slamming down where his head used to be, yanking out a fair-sized hank of hair in the process. Cable came back to his feet, a quick flicker of telekinesis bringing his psimitar to his hand. More swiftly than Cable could have imagined, Apocalypse was coming at him again.
Cable focused, and the psimitar blazed with light. He brought it down in a low, sweeping arc, like an artist detailing the barest beginnings of a sketch, and telekinetic force lashed outwards from the tip of the blade. If his opponent had been an ordinary man, the attack would have shattered the bones in his leg instantly.
Apocalypse stumbled. Briefly. That was all. And even as Cable started to bring his psimitar back up again, another fist came at him like a battering ram. With no time to try for a shield, he settled for diving out of the way. He wasn't quite in time--the blow clipped him on the shoulder, even the glancing blow strong enough to topple him. This time, he managed, just barely, to keep hold of the psimitar. Flat on his back, he rolled desperately so that he took Apocalypse's kick on his techno-organic side. Unbelievably, considering how little sensation he'd always had on that side, it did hurt, spikes of pain radiating through his chest, but he ignored it, and used the momentum, whipping the psimitar around and pouring more power than he'd ever handled before through it, so much that the psimitar felt like ice in his hands as its unique construction reacted to the glut of energy.
It hurled Apocalypse away, almost to the other side of the ring. Cable got back to his feet, pain stabbing into his right side with every breath he took, and threw himself forward, taking the offensive. Have to try and do some damage before he recovers-- His head was already splitting from the psionic exertion. Too much had gone into that one attack. He had to be more careful--
An enormous foot slammed into his midsection and he crumpled, gasping, retching. Apocalypse stood over him, curiously making no move to press his advantage.
"Spare yourself this," he rumbled, not sounding winded in the slightest. "Yield, merely kneel to me, Dayspring, and this can be over."
"Never," Cable wheezed.
Apocalypse laughed. "Of course not. Still--I believe I will take great pleasure in reminding you of that, in the days to come."
Cable didn't bother responding. Waste of breath, and he didn't have it to waste. Concentrating desperately, he slipped between the moments--
--and popped back into real-time, hearing the tail end of a roar of fury from Apocalypse at his momentary disappearance. Without even trying to get up, Cable swung his psimitar around and drove a tightly-focused telekinetic attack right at Apocalypse's throat.
The High Lord gave a strangled howl and staggered, clutching at his throat. I don't believe it, Cable thought dazedly. Did I actually do some damage there?
His hopes were crushed a moment later as Apocalypse let his hand fall and Cable saw the metallic flesh begin to ripple, repairing itself. Scrambling to his feet, desperate to follow up on the momentary opening that was swiftly closing, Cable inscribed a hook-like shape in the air with the psimitar. Apocalypse's knees buckled under the powerful telekinetic blow from behind.
But he recovered, so quickly. Too quickly. Cable's hastily thrown-up TK shield shattered like glass beneath a massive fist that went on to slam into the side of his head with the force of a sledgehammer. It sent him to his knees--only a sheer act of will kept him from going any farther. Cable raised his psimitar, projecting the telekinetic 'shadow' of the staff outwards to block the next blow. The impact jolted him backwards, and he rolled desperately back to his feet, trying to put some distance between himself and the External's inexorable advance.
All thought of strategy was driven out of his mind. All he could do was dodge the attacks he could, block the ones he couldn't, and try and take whatever opportunity he could to try and strike back. Apocalypse didn't give him many. As the High Lord chased him around the ring, Cable swiftly realized just how outclassed he was. Save for Stryfe, he had always been better, or at least equal, to just about anyone he had ever fought. But Apocalypse seemed to just shrug off his blows, his mutant power repairing whatever damage the few hits Cable managed to land did.
His arms felt like lead weights. He could barely lift his psimitar, and the psionic strain was getting worse. Much more and he'd lose his hold on the virus. His defensive patterns grew ragged with fatigue, sloppy with growing desperation. He'd never fought anyone this strong, this fast.
This unbeatable? NO! Cable swore under his breath in Askani, the vilest oath he knew. I am not going to fail here, stab his eyes-- Ducking another massive fist, he whirled, shaping a cocoon of pure force around the blade of his psimitar, and brought it down on Apocalypse's arm with all of his strength, psychic and physical.
A crack like a gunshot echoed across the desert. Apocalypse howled and swung back around with terrifying speed.
Grabbing the staff of his psimitar.
Wrenching it right out of his hands.
Tossing it out of the ring.
Cable backpedaled as swiftly as he could, desperately pulling at the psimitar with his telekinesis. It moved a few inches, no more--and stopped abruptly as one of the Dark Riders moved forward and stepped on it. Grinning, the Rider leaned over and picked it up, holding onto it tightly.
Well, that tears it-- Cable turned back to Apocalypse, his breath coming in harsh, panting gasps as he raised a weary hand to mop the sweat streaming from his brow. Hand-to-hand--who am I kidding? I'm dead-- Apocalypse was glaring malevolently at him, even as his broken arm reset itself with appalling speed.
"Let us see what you have left without your toy, Askani dog," the High Lord growled.
Cable barely avoided the charge, this time. Before he could recover, a low, sweeping kick knocked his feet out from under him, sending him crashing awkwardly onto the hot sands. Another kick, to the ribs this time, drove the air from his lungs. Struggling to breathe, he was helpless to resist as Apocalypse hoisted him high into the air.
"And now it ends!" was the last thing Cable heard, before being violently dropped onto the High Lord's knee. The sickening crack of vertebrae giving way under the strain drove him down into darkness.
Apocalypse, breathing heavily, stared down at the bloodied, broken form at his feet.
He had expected to win. He had expected Dayspring to give him a fight, but this had been even better, more satisfying, that he had dared to hope. Concentrating, he finished repairing his arm and the other damage his opponent had done in the course of the duel.
"A glorious victory, my Lord," one of the Dark Riders said respectfully.
"Yes," Apocalypse mused. Glorious, but not complete. Not yet. He crouched down beside Dayspring, smiling coldly as he saw the faint rise and fall of his chest, heard the stubborn, persistent beating of his heart. "A true survivor," Apocalypse whispered, pleased. He picked up the unconscious Askani'son and headed back towards the fortress.
Now the true test could begin.
to be continued...
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